The Holy Blood procession attracted thousands of spectators in the center of Bruges on Thursday, May 26th. Due to the pandemic, the tradition, inscribed on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List, had to be put on hold for the past three years.
The Procession of the Holy Blood, which dates back at least to the year 1303, is organized every year in Bruges on Ascension Day. Although this event has undergone many changes over the centuries, it still revolves around the re-enactment of the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The show consists of four parts. According to the legend, in 1150, after the second crusade, Thierry of Alsace, Count of Flanders, brought back from Jerusalem the relic of the Holy Blood of Jesus to be placed in the Basilica of the Burg. There are several elements of popular belief and folklore surrounding this legend.
According to the Belgian police, this year the procession attracted 40,000 spectators, about the same number of people as the last edition in 2019. Every year in spring, between 30,000 and 45,000 spectators gather in the heart of the Bruges to attend the Procession of the Holy Blood on Ascension Day, forty days after Easter.
Led by the thirty notables of the city, members of the Noble Brotherhood of the Holy Blood, and accompanied by brass bands, more than 1,700 citizens on foot, on horseback or in chariots bring to life scenes from the Old Testament, the life of Jesus and the history of Bruges.
The various groups of citizens then go to venerate the relic, and the procession ends with a prayer service in several languages so that spectators from all over the world can follow the ceremony. For centuries, this ceremony has played an important role in expressing the identity of the people of Bruges and has been an opportunity to meet people from outside the city.
The participants, of all ages, families and communities, form a representative sample of the population. Some residents have been participating in the event for forty or fifty years, and those who have left the city often return to experience the “best day in Bruges”. The Procession is a living example of how a collective ceremony can cement the unity of a city through the ritual interpretation of its history and beliefs.
The Holy Blood Procession was inscribed in 2009 on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.