The St Willibrord Project, Patron Saint of Luxembourg and the First Apostle of the Netherlands, is an international multi agency project between County Carlow and Echternach, Luxembourg, coordinated from the Irish side by Carlow County Museum on behalf of our parent body Carlow County Council. St Willibrord is one of the most important Saints in Europe having spent twelve years in county Carlow being trained and ordained before he led a mission to the continent in AD 690.
In June 2017, the Right Reverend Michael Burrows, Bishop of Cashel, Waterford, Lismore, Ferns, Ossory and Leighlin, with the Most Reverend Denis Nulty, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, accompanied by Cllr. John Murphy, Cathaoirleach of Carlow County Council, lead a joint ecumenical diocesan pilgrimage of nearly sixty people from Carlow to Echternach to partake in the UNESCO World Heritage Status annual ‘hopping procession’ in honour of St Willibrord. This procession takes place on the Tuesday after Pentecost/ Whit Sunday.
On Monday June 4th, His Excellency Mr Peadar Carpenter, Ireland’s Ambassador to Luxembourg, welcomed the group to Luxembourg. Cllr Murphy, Cathaoirleach, on behalf of the group, thanked Ambassador Carpenter for meeting us and for all the assistance he provided the group in advance and during the visit. Later that afternoon the group received a special welcome to Echternach in the Town Hall from Mayor Yves Wengler and Members of Echternach Council. They hosted the group in the same room that they also welcomed President Mary McAleese to their town during her 2009 state visit.
That evening the Basilica of St Willibrord hosted a prayer service led by Archbishop Augustine Kasujja, Papal Nuncio to Luxembourg, and at which the Litany of St Willibrord was sung in German. It was during this service that the Most Reverend Jean-Claude Hollerich, Archbishop of Luxembourg (now Cardinal) presented the specially commissioned Relic of St Willibrord to Bishop Denis Nulty, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, to honour the historical links between the town of Echternach and County Carlow. Cathaoirleach Murphy and Bishops Burrows and Nulty are humbled and delighted that the people of Echternach saw fit to honour our 1,300 years of heritage.
St Willibrord has appeal across the many Christian communities particularly for Roman Catholics, Anglican and Old Catholics. Through the mists of time his Carlow connection, for the most part had been forgotten, but through academic research by Professor Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, Department of History, NUI Galway, over the past forty years this connection has been re-established. In 2002 Henri, the Grand Duke of Luxembourg paid a state to Ireland and 2009 President Mary McAleese as part of her state visit to Luxembourg visited Echternach and spoke of the connection. Since then, an active relationship has developed between organisations in both Carlow and Echternach in particular between the Willibrordus-Bauverein, who coordinate the procession, and Carlow County Museum, operated by Carlow County Council.
Although Willibrord is relatively unknown in Ireland, much devotion and religious festivals are held to this day in his honour in Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. The most famous is an annual hopping procession, a dance that dates back to, if not predates St Willibrord’s lifetime. The hopping procession takes place annually on the Tuesday after Pentecost Sunday and sees thousands of people descending on Echternach to partake along with dozens of Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops from across Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
On Tuesday June 6th, after 8am Mass the assembled clergy lead the Relic of St Willibrord out from the Basilica of St Willibrord into the adjoining square of the secondary school where thousands have gathered. A large group walking the route of the procession recite the Litany of St Willibrord and they are followed by members of the local fire service who carry the Relic of St Willibrord along the route of the procession. They in turn are followed by over 10,000 people hopping from their left to right foot in his honour. In 2017 the procession was made up of thirty-nine hopping groups all led by a marching band who all play the exact same tune for people to hop to.
2017 they led out in typical Irish rainy weather, which the procession rarely gets! However, according to Alain Muller, Willibrordus-Bauverein, and Carlow’s excellent chaperone for the visit, said the Irish were not to blame for the rain, but being credited for the sunshine that came out when the Carlow pilgrims began to undertake their historical first hopping procession. The Presentation Band and the hopping Carlow pilgrims received a warm welcome from the many thousands who lined the streets to watch the procession, being applauded on many occasions. The group was joined by a number of people, also hopping for the first time, who had heard of an open invitation to join with the Carlow pilgrims. After one kilometre of hopping the group then entered the Basilica, hopping down the side aisle, down into the crypt under the alter and past St Willibrord’s remains. Upon remerging from the Basilica, the historic first hopping procession for the Carlow group ended with all invigorated by the procession and the spirit of St Willibrord. While it was a short pilgrimage, four days in total, all who travelled enjoyed the experience and have a deeper understanding of St Willibrord and an appreciation for how important he to the people of Luxembourg. For Pierre Kauthen, former President of the Willibrordus-Bauverein, it was a realisation of a dream to have a group from not only Ireland but from Carlow to partake in the procession.
Cllr. John Murphy, Cathaoirleach of Carlow County Council, was joined on the pilgrimage by Cllr. Fergal Browne, Chairperson of Carlow County Museum; Martin Nevin, Board of Carlow County Museum; Pat Delaney, Director of Services and Dermot Mulligan, Museum Curator. Louise Doyle, Tully’s Travel, Carlow Town, coordinated the logistics of the group travelling safely to Luxembourg.
On Saturday June 24th, 2017, the Walk With Willibrord saw the Relic of St Willibrord being brought to its permanent home in the Cathedral of the Assumption, Carlow Town. The Relic was walked from St Laserian’s Cathedral, Old Leighlin, to the Cathedral of the Assumption via the Barrow Way.