LUXEMBOURG’S RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS – PART 1

SPRANGPROZESSIOUN

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This article describes the celebrated ‘dancing procession’ of Echternach in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, which traditionally takes place annually on Whit-Tuesday, the 52nd day after Easter.

Sprangprozessioun – Dancing Procession


One of Luxembourg’s most revered and unique tradition is Echternach’s famous Sprangprozessioun (Dancing Procession), whose origin dates back to pagan times and is celebrated on Whit-Tuesday, the 52nd day after Easter.

A most vivid account of its origin is given by Jacques Auguste Simon Collin de Plancy (1793-1887) in a book entitled Legends of the Commandments of God, published in 1864, of which I would like to relate a few significant passages. De Plancy narrates how by the eight century A.D. the greater part of the region around Echternach had embraced the Christian faith; but the people of Echternach remained attached to the worship of the old Gaulish divinities. Good St. Willibrord, (~658-739), came to convert these pagans. Fifteen years before the future saint’s coming, a local young man, more enlightened, had set out with his young wife for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. His name was Guy [Veith], and according to the honored Lëtzebuergesch tradition of bestowing nicknames, Guy being tall, he was dubbed Laange Veith  (Long, tall Guy). After fifteen years of absence Guy and his bride were believed to be dead, when on Easter-day of 729, Laange Veith reappeared, alone, with a fiddle, in the good city of Echternach.

De Plancy gives the following perceptive description of Laange Veith: ‘He was still, as at his departure, a very tall man, excessively thin and light, a real skeleton, suitably clothed with skin, muscles, and nerves. He had long legs, which the people compared to the props of their vines; immense feet, hands with no end of bony fingers, and a head as long as a winter night, as a wit of the country expressed it. He took enormous strides, or rather leaps; and, in short, was quoted as the most miserable-looking, nimble, and disjointed being ever seen. In spite of all, his expression was pleasing, and his look soft; and, such as he was, he had succeeded in gaining the heart of the young woman who had accompanied him on his pilgrimage, but whom he did not bring back.’

His return however was not welcomed by everybody, especially not by his relatives, who during his absence had divvied up his property. They concocted a plan of accusing him of having killed his wife. To make a long story short, on Whit-Monday, Laange Veith was sentenced, declared guilty and condemned to be hanged the very next day, Whit-Tuesday.

Let us again have de Plancy describe the moment: ‘On Whit-Tuesday, then, in the year 729, at bright mid-day, there arrived, escorted by the executioner and his assistants, at the foot of the hill, on which was built a chapel, now replaced by the church of Echternach, Guy, the fiddler, on his way to death. His bare head let his long hair float in the wind; he walked with an air of indifference; his long arms with difficulty balanced each other; his violin, tied by a woollen riband, was thrown on his back, and the bow hung at his girdle. It was seen, from the motion of his eyes and lips, that he was praying, governed by some inspiration. He stepped in silence up to the middle of the ladder. Then he took his violin, lifted his bow, and resting his bony chin on the beloved instrument, sent forth on the spot, without any prelude, a volume of brilliant notes; executing what would now be called variations upon a popular plaintive air.’

Before long his accusers, the executioner and his assistants, the judges, his relatives, all the bystanders, and even the domestic animals, drawn from their pastures, set themselves to dance. The sound of his violin still lingered long after Laange Veith had disappeared never to be seen again. At sunset, the people retired, sore and exhausted, except Laange Veith’s eighteen relatives who, according to legend, danced for a year around the ladder, without eating or drinking. They had already sunk into the earth up to their knees when good Bishop Willibrord came, took pity on the sinners, and delivered them from their punishment. After a profound sleep of five days, the three principal accusers returned to their senses, acknowledged their crime, made a penitent confession, and died soon after. The other fifteen, it is added, were all their lives troubled with a shaking, which never allowed them to forget their wicked conduct.

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© 2009 Fausto Gardini. Jacksonville, Florida

A version of this article was published in the Luxembourg American Gazette
 Vol. 3, Number 2, Spring 2008.

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