Where ever in the world I am I look up Folklore, but when in Belgium it seems folklore has to come to me. I always seemed to think that there was no such thing as folklore left in this country. And although I had heard of the Procession of the Holy Blood in Bruges, it had always seemed too far off and inaccessible. Until my friend took me to Bruges today.
It is the count of the Flanders, Diederick van den Elzas, who brought a crystal flask containing Christ’s’ blood from Jerusalem in 1150. The first known Procession dates back from 1304, the oldest known program booklet dates from 1722, and in 2009 the Procession of the Holy Blood became UNESCO Cultural Immaterial Heritage. About 1700 people participate in this big parade through town. Most participants participate every year, some characters go from father to son to grandson. Some groups are so traditional that it is difficult to get in. But there are also ‘new’ participants, schools help out, youth clubs, all volunteers, and for many this is the event of the year.
Also city officials and church representatives are present. The procession shows scenes of history of the city, and religious and biblical scenes. It all has a very medieval touch and style, costumes from that era, wagons pulled by the big beautiful Flemish horses, only the spectators are from today.
Not that I saw all this in person. After checking out how they were all getting ready in a big hall, putting on their beautiful, perfect costumes, some ready to go and having a beer while waiting, others still on the big catwalk-style stage to get a thick layer of make up, or waiting in line to get the final approval before the processions starts. A lot of old people but as many young and even small kids. Boys and girls. Sheep, horses and camels. It promised to be a perfectly organized magnificent folklore show that parades through out the city of Bruges.
I was so ready, so I went back into the street looking for the perfect chair that would give me the perfect view on the coming -perfect- procession. Guarded with camera, raincoat and even an umbrella -you never know in Belgium- I finally sat down waiting while the crowds were arriving and taking their seats. It started ; a typical Belgian style fanfare came from the opposite direction, on its way to pick up the beginning of the procession, when just before my eyes, they were stopped by a police car, literally 5 minutes before the due start time, telling the people through a microphone that the Procession was canceled due to bad weather, and there would be no refund of the tickets (the 5€ you had to pay to sit down, or the more expensive places on the tribunes).
Disappointment was big. Lots of people just held on to their paid chair, long after every one else had started to move. Last time it got canceled was in 1997 and it all seemed so surreal! I started walking around town, looking for the Holy Blood, which surely was going to be brought back to the chapel, when I was told that the expense of drying the whigs and costumes is so high, that they can’t and do not want to risk getting wet. The whole Procession is now postponed to … next year.
hold on to your paid chairs
The Procesion of the Holy Blood takes place on Ascencion Day in the city of Bruges. Put it in your agenda check out their website for details. The best way to get there is by train. You can pay for a ticket on the tribunes, or just pay a few euros for a chair on the sidewalks, or stay standing. The Procesion takes 1:30h. Canceled when raining.