Procession of the Penitents

Penitents, Procession of the (Belgium)

Last Sunday in July
The Procession of the Penitents is a religious procession in Veurne (or Furnes), West Flanders, Belgium. Penitents in coarse robes and hoods walk barefoot through town, many carrying heavy wooden crosses. The procession, to the sound of drumbeats, is interspersed with scenes depicting biblical events. In some, costumed people dramatize Old and New Testament characters. In others there are carved wooden figures on platforms. At the end of the procession, bishops parade carrying the Sacred Host; and as the Sacrament passes, spectators quietly kneel. After the procession is over there is a kermess, or fair, in the marketplace. The celebration traditionally draws large crowds.
Two legends account for the origins of the procession. One says that it dates back to 1099 when crusader Count Robert II of Flanders returned from Jerusalem with a fragment of the True Cross. The other traces it to 1644 when townsfolk carried crosses in a reenactment of the last walk of Jesus before his crucifixion. The procession was to seek intercession against the plague and an outbreak of war between the Spanish and French.
CONTACTS:
Tourist Office of Veurne
Grote Markt 27
Veurne, B 8630 Belgium
32-58-33-05-31; fax: 32-58-33-05-96
tourism.veurne.be/home/2263/default_tourism
SOURCES:
BkHolWrld-1986, Jul 27
FestWestEur-1958, p. 14

Celebrated in: Belgium


Penitents, Procession of the (Spain)
Between May 3-June 6; the week preceding Pentecost
During the week before Pentecost on the Spanish side of the PyrÉnÉes near the French border, a procession of penitents, covered from head to toe in black except for their eyes, makes its way from the village of Burgos to the Abbey of Roncesvalles. With heavy wooden crosses tied to their backs, they struggle up the steep two-mile path that leads to the abbey, chanting a doleful Miserere . After attending mass there, the penitents make their confessions without removing the black hoods that hide their faces.
Since the penitents come from five surrounding villages, each parish performs its own penitential march over a five-day period. According to legend, the procession originated as an act of penance among 23 families seeking atonement for the sins they had committed during the year.
CONTACTS:
Orreaga-Roncesvalles Tourist Office
Antiguo Molino
Roncesvalles, Spain
34-948-760-301; fax: 34-948-76-03-01
SOURCES:
FestSaintDays-1915, p. 112
FestWestEur-1958, p. 196

Celebrated in: Spain