09.09.2016 - The procession...

...provides us with a picture of our own lives: The people of God in transit. What and Who is their destination? This persistent, age-old question is more pertinent than ever today.The 2019 Hanswijk ...

02.08.2016 - Procession 2019: Sunday the 19th of May 2019


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In 1738, the Dalscholieren or Frères de l'Ordre, the monastic order that had assumed responsibility for the Hanswijk parish, celebrated the 450th anniversary of their presence in Mechelen. This coincided with the 750th anniversary of the cult of Mary in Hanswijk (988 – 1738). The  decision was made to mark this double anniversary in suitable fashion with the first Hanswijk jubilee celebrations.

The jubilee had a primarily religious significance, and the focus was therefore on the liturgical celebrations in the Church of Our Lady of Hanswijk.

Celebrations also took place outside the church, however, with the jubilee procession and the first Hanswijk cavalcade. A cavalcade or Ry-bende is a procession on horseback – a pageant of riders and splendid horse-drawn floats.

The civic authorities and all the people of Mechelen joined in these celebrations, as was evident in the decoration of the streets and the inclusion of the Mechelen Ommegang in the festive programme. The jubilee celebrations were such a success that it was decided to repeat them every 25 years.

The ancient Mechelen "Ommegang" ("walk around")

The term "ommegang" was used to refer to the procession that took place every year around the city walls with the relics of St Rumbold. The first such event took place in 1302, following a vow made by the people of Mechelen "when hostile armies threatened the city", i.e. Mechelen was beseiged by Duke John II of Brabant. This procession, known as the "Peisprocessie" (peace procession), has been organised by the city on the Wednesday after Easter every year since.

Originally, the Peisprocessie was a procession of penance and prayer, but over the years Biblical figures began to appear in it and later on characters from profane history and mythological personages. The clergy of Mechelen therefore decided to separate the religious procession and the profane ommegang from each other, so that from the early 18th century onwards the ommegang only took place on special occasions such as cavalcades, royal visitations and certain ceremonies.

Thus the term "ommegang" now refers to the "giants' train", with associated figures from folklore. The various components of the ommegang are the work of Mechelen sculptors and gradually made their appearance during the 15th, 16th and first half of the 17th century: the giants, Ros Beiaard (a giant horse ridden by four brothers), the Kemeltjes (camels), the Ship of War, the Wheel of Fortune and Opsignoorke (an ancient doll who is tossed in the air and caught again). A number of floats from 19th century cavalcades - the Lischbloem, the Peoene, the Slede van de Peoene and the Prediking van Rumoldus te Mechelen (the preaching of Rumbold in Mechelen) – precede the actual ommegang and thus form a transition between the religious and historical cavalcade and the folkloric ommegang.

Religious character

History teaches us that the jubilee celebrations differ substantially on each occasion and that the cavalcade is never just a copy of the previous one. At the same time, it is clear that the celebrations have retained their predominantly religious character over the centuries and that both the Jubilee procession and the Hanswijk cavalcade are key elements in these festivities.

The Jubilee procession has however more the character of a prayerful procession in which both the statue of Our Lady of Hanswijk and the Blessed Sacrament are carried through the town. In the Hanswijk cavalcade, historical elements also feature in addition to the religious elements.

Later developments

Over the years, the fringe festivities have grown in size, and the duration of the jubilee celebrations has also increased. The first such festivities were spread over a fortnight, but this period gradually lengthened. In 1988 – the millennial anniversary of the cult of Mary in Hanswijk – the jubilee concept was expanded to become a jubilee year for the first time (6/10/1987 – 8/09/1988). The same was true of the twelfth Hanswijk jubilee celebrations in 2013!