Thursday, May 13, 2010

Holy Blood Procession in Bruges

According to an old tradition, In 1150, Derrick of Alsace, Count of Flanders, returned to Bruges from the Second Crusade with a precious relic of the Holy Blood of Christ. He is said to have received this relic from is brother-in-law, Baldwin III of Anjou, King of Jerusalem, with the approval of the Patriarch of Jerusalem. An alternative account of the history of this relic is somewhat more ignoble. In 1203 Constantinople fell to the crusaders of the Fourth Crusade, and some think that the first Latin emperor of Constantinople, Baldwin IX of Flanders, sent the relic to Bruges. In any case, the crystal reliquary is dated to this time, and the earliest document of the Holy Blood of Bruges dates to 1256.

Since 1291, a procession has celebrated the arrival of the relic of the Holy Blood in Bruges, which is now in Belgium. From 1303 onwards, this procession became a civic event, with the relic being taken in procession around the city walls. The procession is now one of the grandest in Europe and takes place on Ascension day. It takes the form of its glory days, from the 15th century, and following a route set in 1578.

There are three parts to the procession : the first of tableaux and floats enacting scenes from the Old and New Testaments, recounting salvation history; the second part is historical and shows the 1150 return of Derrick of Alsace to his court in Bruges; finally the relic itself is carried in procession, attended by dignitaries of Church and State.

During the rest of the year, the relic is enshrined in the Basilica of the Holy Blood.

For reasons of copyright, photos of this year's procession cannot be shown here, but you can watch a Flickr slideshow of them here. There is another set, from 2008, here, which shows cardinals in the procession and even a bishop carrying the reliquary!

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