Dancing Procession

Dancing Procession

Between May 12 and June 15; Whit Tuesday
The Sprangprocession in Luxembourg has been held on Whit Tuesday, which falls 52 days after Easter, since the eighth century. It honors St. Willibrord (St. Wilfred), the patron saint of Luxembourg, whose feast day is celebrated November 7. The dance that is performed by thousands of participants in the procession through the narrow streets of Echternach has remained basically unchanged. It traditionally involved taking three steps forward and two back to the accompaniment of local bands playing the same melody that was played more than 500 years ago. These days so many people participate, the backward steps are eliminated and instead people step to the left, then to the right. The procession ends up in the basilica, where the remains of St. Willibrord (658-739) are buried.
There are a number of legends that attempt to explain the origin of the Dancing Procession. According to one of them, St. Willibrord came to Luxembourg from northern England to convert the people to Christianity. He saved them from a plague by promising that if they subjected themselves to physical punishment, the plague would end. The people danced to the same tune that is played today, hopping up and down until they were completely exhausted and, as promised, the plague disappeared.
Another story is that a crusader returned from the Holy Land to discover that his dead wife's greedy relatives had taken over his property and branded him a murderer. As he was about to be hanged, he asked permission to play one last tune on his violin. The haunting melody mesmerized the onlookers, who started dancing and were unable to stop. The condemned man walked away from the scaffold, and the procession that is held each year is penance for his unjust condemnation.
A more prosaic explanation is that, in the late eighth century, people afflicted with tremors and various kinds of paralysis reported being healed at St. Willibrord's grave. From that time on, people have performed the dance near his grave for protection from illness. In 1999 University of Kiel neurologist Paul Krack, a native of Echternach, published an article examining the tradition's relationship to outbreaks of hysteric chorea (a disorder that causes involuntary movements) and other movement disorders.
CONTACTS:
Luxembourg National Tourist Office, The Luxembourg House
17 Beekman Pl.
New York, NY 10022
212-935-8888; fax: 212-935-5896
SOURCES:
BkHolWrld-1986, Jun 3
FestWestEur-1958, p. 112
GdWrldFest-1985, p. 128
References in periodicals archive ?
Every year, on Whit Tuesday, pilgrims crowd the small town of Echternach, Luxembourg, to join a Dancing Procession, a tradition, legend has it, rooted in miraculous healings as far back as the 8th century at the site of Saint Willibrord's sarcophagus.
Pupils from All Saints Primary School, Widnes, will take part in a singing and dancing procession which will go through Hope Street in Liverpool city centre.
The matrons in the group, those over 40 years old, have had many years of practice with the dancing processions, so they are the ones chosen for major roles.