Hence it is difficult to say when Echternach's procession had its beginning. It is mentioned in records of the eighth century, when pilgrimages to the tomb of St Willibrord began. But it probably existed centuries before that. It is not hard to see in it a Christianized survival of the springtime rites in honor of Diana, whose priests probably borrowed the dance from a propitiatory pageant of an older cult.
Legend explains its origin in detail, however careless written history may have been about the date. The good burghers of Echternach once came close to dire poverty as the result of a strange illness that attacked their cattle. The picture as presented by the folk-tale lacks only the cat and the fiddle to make it very familiar to the friends of Mother Goose. Though the cows did n't leap over the moon and the music of the cat's fiddling may not have been the cause, they did do a bit more leaping than is considered good for cows. Many of them died as the result of their debauch. continue reading
The annual Procession, which attracts about 13.000 pilgrims, plus numerous spectators, into the small abbey-town, takes place on Tuesday after Whitsun. 9.000 people, mostly dressed in white shirts / blouses and dark trousers / skirts hop through the medieval streets to the haunting rhythm of an ancient tune. The hopping step is sideways and forward. In the past, though, some pilgrims jumped three steps forward and two backwards. Nowadays the expression “the Echternach Step” is frequently used to refer to politicians who cannot make up their minds.
Since 2010 the Dancing / Hopping Procession of Echternach has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List of Mankind’s Immaterial Values.
The Dancing Procession of Echternach, or Hopping Procession, is held once a year to honor Luxembourg’s only saint: Saint Willibrord, the founder of Echternach Abbey. Willibrord, an Irish / Anglo-Saxon missionary (658 – 739) brought Christianity to an area which is roughly situated north and north–west of Echternach (Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany).
A description of the dancing procession from the year 1913 (part1)
Once a year the abbey town stirs itself from its peaceful sleep. The spirits of the dead monks troop down from the abbey cemetery. The feet of the live burghers slip into the most comfortable shoes available. And there begins a religious ceremony like nothing else in Europe, a pageant as dignified as it is startling, and as wierdly unnatural as it is hallowed by usage — the famous dance of the Springprozession.
Dancing has had its place in the church ritual elsewhere than in Echternach. Traces of it may be seen to-day in the strictly processional marches of acolytes at an impressive mass. A ballet once was part of the cathedral staff in some of the more important Spanish churches. In the mystical rites of the worship in ancient Greece and Rome Terpsichore was a temple goddess.