June 6, Hopping Procession. In a weird religious dance, thousands hop to a polka through medieval streets of Echternach

Luxemburgers have been hopping for 500 years in honor of a British saint.


Starched Hoppers

The Hopping Procession is Europe’s largest traditional dancing procession.

Every Whit Tuesday, some 12,000 hoppers merge in the city of Echternach.

The “dancing saint” is St Willibrord, a North Yorkshire man, who is revered as a healer of epilepsy and nervous diseases.

Thousands hop to a bouncy polka melody through the medieval streets to the crypt past St. Willibrord’s tomb.

It was once a multi-step affair involving backward jumps.

At some stages, pilgrims would crawl under a stone or fall to their knees.

That’s where the saying that someone “moves like the procession of Echternach” comes from.

Now a little jump to the right, a little jump to the left, and hop you go.

While the moving crowds seem to morph into one large bouncy mass, there are, apparently, regional differences.

The Luxembourgers favor a simple hop, the Germans throw their legs higher and the Belgians are more relaxed!

The Hopping Procession probably dates back to the sixteenth century when male pilgrims started performing a dance on the way to Echternach for Whitsun.

No one knows exactly why they are dancing.

But despite past efforts to ban the procession by the Catholic Church and the Nazis, it hops on.

The dark legend of the ‘Fiddler of Echternach’

A dark story has a certain Vitus returning to Echternach, having lost his wife on pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Thieving relatives spread the rumor that Vitus (the Fiddler of Echternach) had killed his wife while abroad.

He was sentenced to death and upon being led to the gallows asked whether he could play his violin one last time.

His wish was granted and Vitus started playing.  Onlookers gathered around the gallows started to dance.

Onlookers gathered around the gallows started to dance.

They danced for hours on end, until their feet sank into the ground.

Vitus fled the gallows and the city of Echternach, still playing, while the crowds continued to sink.

This is when St Willibrord was called upon to put an end to this curse and release the unfortunate from the St Vitus’ dance.

(Otherwise known as epilepsy.)

In ancient times, the Hopping Procession was believed to heal not only epilepsy but other aches and pains afflicting men and animals.

In bygone days the procession was a true pilgrimage, drawing people from afar and mostly on foot.

There were worshippers who never set out for Echternach without taking along a few coffins because their group was bound to lose a pilgrim or two en route.

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