Sunday, May 29, 2011

Octave Procession (May 29 at 3pm)

If you’ve been in Luxembourg any time over the last three weeks, you’ve probably strolled through the giant fun fair set up on Place Guillaume II. There, you’ll find enclosed restaurants that have popped up on the square to serve fried fish and other items, you’ll find carnival style games, more sweets stands than you could ever imagine; and of course, the infamous Jean le Gauffre Luxembourg’s most recognizable waffle man, who is out in full force with a VIP waffle room set up for the occasion.

But it’s more than just a fun fair: the fun fair is actually a piece of a long-standing religious tradition called Octave. Every year between the 3rd and 5th Sunday after Easter, groups of pilgrims travel to the Cathédral Notre-Dame in town to visit the statue of Our Lady, Comforter of the Afflicted, the patroness of both Luxembourg Ville (since 1660) and the entire Grand Duchy (since 1678).

The statue is said to have been discovered in 1624 by a group of students who found outside the walls of the city in a hollow oak tree. The statue was taken to a church, but kept disappearing to return to the hollow oak tree, according to folklore. In any case, pilgrims began to visit the statue from 1625 onward. A chapel was eventually built to hold the statue in the place where it had been discovered. Reports of healings and answered prayers surfaced from several people who had visited the statue. As the crowds of visitors began to grow, an annual week-long pilgrimage was established in 1639. During this time, the statue was brought from its chapel into a church inside the walls of the city, where it was kept for eight days. (Perhaps where the name “Octave” comes from?) On the last day, a solemn procession would carry the statue back to its chapel outside the walls. This was the foundation of the three week tradition that exists today. (The fun fair likely evolved because after such a long walk, pilgrims were hungry.)

This year, May 29, marks the fifth Sunday after Easter and is the last day of Octave. At 3pm today, the traditional procession will take place through town. I haven’t been before and cannot tell you where the procession will end; the chapel that housed the statue was destroyed at war time years ago and the statue is now kept permanently inside the Notre-Dame cathedral. But the tourist office tells me that the procession will begin outside of the church at 3pm, on the city side of the church, they believed (not the FDR Boulevard side).

In any case, if you’re in town today, keep an eye out for the procession. And if you have a few minutes, I highly recommend that you check out this write-up from a historian who grew up in Luxembourg and wrote about the Octave pilgrimages online. It’s a great read.



  1. Did you make it to the procession? Were there any scarecrows like the one around Carnival?

  2. We did! No scarecrows this time, just the statue. :)