Launch of joint Diocesan Pilgrimage from Co. Carlow to Echternach, Luxembourg June 2017 as part of the annual ‘Hopping Procession’ in honour of St. Willibrord

On Wednesday 27th January 2016 at 7.30pm next in the Parish Centre, Leighlinbridge, Co. Carlow Bishop Denis Nulty, Bishop of Kildare & Leighlin and Bishop Michael Burrows, Bishop of Cashel, Waterford, Lismore, Ferns, Ossory and Leighlin will launch the joint Diocesan pilgrimage to Echternach, Luxembourg which will take place in June 2017. Both Bishops will lead the pilgrimage which will partake in the annual ‘Hopping Procession’ in honour of St Willibrord, Patron Saint of Luxembourg. St. Willibrord was trained and ordained in Clonmelsh, Garryhundon, Co Carlow in the late 7th century. The centuries old hopping procession, which has received UNESCO World Heritage Status, sees approximately ten thousand people gently hop from one foot to the other through the medieval streets of Echternach. All are welcome to attend this launch and the accompanying presentation on the pilgrimage, the procession and connection between Carlow and Luxembourg.

About St. Willibrord

St Willibrord was born near York in England. He is the Patron Saint of Luxembourg and he is buried in the Basilica of Echternach, which is the centre of his monastery. In 690AD he led a successful mission from Carlow, made up of Irishmen and exiled Englishmen, and an annual hopping procession is held in his honour on the Tuesday after Pentecost Sunday. Located in the townland of Garryhundon, Co Carlow, is an archaeological site commonly referred to as Killogan, Rath Melsigi (Rathmelsh) or Clonmelsh Graveyard. During the seventh and eighth centuries this site was the most important Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastical settlement in Ireland. It was here from 678AD to c. 720AD that Willibrord and many other Englishmen were trained for the continental mission. His Feast Day is November 7th.

Building on the close relationship between early Irish and European monasteries a number of ecclesiastical settlements were established in Ireland that accommodated European monks, in particular Anglo-Saxon monks. The most noteworthy of these was the settlement in Garryhundon, Co. Carlow. It is quite likely that the site had a direct relationship with the nearby monastery at Leighlin, now occupied by St. Laserian’s Cathedral in Old Leighlin, Carlow’s oldest working building. This monastery was for several centuries a major ecclesiastical settlement and in the early 6th century saw its first Bishop, St Laserian host a major synod on the date of Easter. Many of the earliest Anglo-Saxon manuscripts were written in Irish script either by Irish monks based in Britain or by Anglo-Saxons who were trained by the Irish.

It was from Carlow that Willibrord led eleven other Carlowbased monks on a major mission to the Frisian Land and in 695AD he was consecrated a Bishop by Pope Sergius I. He initially built a cathedral in Utrecht, Holland, but later he moved to presentday Luxembourg and to the town of Echternach, where he founded an abbey. From there he continued to co-ordinate missions to the surrounding countries until 739AD, when he died aged 81. He is buried in Echternach, and he is the only saint buried in Luxembourg.

As part of the abbey in Echternach he established a very important scriptorium and for a considerable period of time the Abbey produced many of the bibles, psalms and prayerbooks that are to be found today in the great libraries of Europe. It is likely that the first generation of these scribes were from Co. Carlow or had trained here.

Great devotion and religious festivals are still held to this day in his honour and in particular a hopping procession, a dance that dates back to, if not predates St. Willibrord’s life time. The hopping procession takes place annually on the Tuesday after Pentecost Sunday sees thousands of people descending on Echternach to partake along with dozens of Cardinals, Arch-Bishops and Bishops from over one hundred and sixty parishes across Luxembourg, Belgium, Holland and Germany who still have devotions to St. Willibrord.

The abbey is now home to a large secondary school and in the adjoining Basilica St. Willibrord is buried in the crypt under the altar. The hopping procession starts in the abbey square and proceeds for approximately one and a half to two kilometers through the streets of the town, then into the Basilica, down into the crypt and past St. Willibrord’s remains. This unique procession coupled with the European importance of the abbey saw the procession granted UNESCO World Heritage Status in 2010.

Towards the end of World War 11 the Basilica was badly damaged during the Battle of the Bulge but during the 1950s it was reconstructed including the instillation of a stain glass window depicting St Willibrord’s training, ordination and first mass in Co. Carlow.

In October 2009 Her Excellency Mary McAleese, President of Ireland as part of her official state visit to Luxembourg visited Echternach. In Carlow County Museum, Ireland’s newest county museum, there is a section depicting St. Willibrord and his connection to the county.

Both Bishop Nulty and Bishop Burrows with clergy from Carlow Cathedral and St Laserian’s Old Leighlin and staff from Carlow County Museum, which is operated by Carlow County Council have met to discuss plans for 2017. The highlights will include the pilgrimage that will be led by both Bishops to Echternach and a special exhibition that will be hosted in Carlow County Museum. Professor Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, School of History, National University Galway, whose research established the connection, is the academic advisor to the project. The pilgrimage bookings will be coordinated through Tully’s Travel Agents, Carlow Town and details will be available on the night of Wednesday January 27th in Leighlinbridge.

Press Release Ends

Photo Captions: (all photos courtesy of Carlow County Museum)

Pic1: Present day view of the Basilica and Abbey of Echternach, Luxembourg.

Pic2: St Willibrord’s shrine located in the crypt under the altar of the Echternach Basilica.

Pic3: Pilgrims dressed in the traditional colours of white shirt and black trousers, separated by a hanky and five abreast about to undertake the near two kilometre annual hop through the streets of Echternach in honour of St Willibrord.

Pic4: Statue of St. Willibrord, Patron Saint of Luxembourg outside the Basilica and Monastery he founded in Echternach. Luxembourg.

Further Information

Dermot Mulligan, Museum Curator,

Carlow County Museum, College Street, Carlow Town, R93 E3T2

Email:              dmulligan@carlow.ie

Telephone:       059-9131554

Bishop Denis Nulty, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin

Bishop’s House, Old Dublin Road, Carlow
Email:              bishop@kandle.ie

Telephone:       059-9176725

Bishop Michael Burrows, Bishop of Cashel, Waterford, Lismore, Ferns, Ossory and Leighlin

Bishop’s House, Troysgate, Kilkenny

Email:              cashelossorybishop@eircom.net

Phone:             056-7786633