Saturday, April 20, 2013

Luxarazzi 101: Octave of Our Lady of Luxembourg

This afternoon, the annual Luxembourgish Octave celebrations start with a mass celebrated at the Cathédral Notre-Dame. This year's Octave celebrations take place under the motto "Faith, Hope and Charity". In two weeks on 5 May, the closing procession - one of the major outings of the Grand Ducal Family - will take place. So it is time for us to have a look at the history of this important event and what it is all about.

The octave celebrations are one of the Grand Duchy's major annual religious celebrations honouring Our Lady of Luxembourg, Maria Mater Jesu, Consolatrix Afflictorum, Patrona Civitatis et Patriae Luxemburgensis - translated as "Maria, Mother Jesus, Consoler of the Afflicted, Patroness of the City and Country of Luxembourg" if my Latin hasn't left me. It traditionally starts on the third Sunday after Easter and ends on the fifth Sunday after Easter.

Photo: Guy Jallay / Luxemburger Wort /
If you have paid attention and can count, you know by now that the Octave of Our Lady of Luxembourg is actually a double octave as it celebrated for two weeks.

The Octave of Our Lady of Luxembourg has its roots in a time when plague, famine and war were omnipresent occurrences in Europe and the adoration of images of saints a common way of escaping in the hope of a better future. The marial cult was celebrated throughout the whole of Christian Europe.

The Glacis Chapel in 1628
Made of lime wood and measuring 73 centimetres, the statue of Our Lady of Luxembourg is known since 1624 when on 8 December, the day of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, students of the local Jesuit school, today known as Athénée de Luxembourg, carried the Madonna to an open space outside of the fortress of Luxembourg and placed it under a wooden cross. This very first procession had been initiated by the Jesuit priest and teacher Jacques Brocquart.

Due to a high number of donations, the foundation stone for a pilgrimage church was laid at the same place outside of the fortress the following year. During 1626 the whole of Luxembourg including Father Brocquart were struck by the plague. The priest vowed that he would finish the chapel, make a barefoot pilgrimage and donate a candle weighing two pounds if he would make a fully recovery and indeed he soon recovered. In 1628, the Kapell Glacis was consecrated under the vocable of "Our Lady of Consolation" and subsequently became the home of the Madonna.

Closing procession in 1893
by Michel Engels
By 1630 the numbers of pilgrims had reached about 30,000 and two years later the first eight day Marian pilgrimage was held. In 1639, the pilgrimage was celebrated at the Jesuit church for the first time because of the large number of people attending. On the last day, the Madonna was brought back to the pilgrimage church in a grand procession, the origins of today's closing procession.

Between 1640 and 1642, the Glacis Chapel was enlarged and in the following years the invocation of the Consoler of the Afflicted became increasingly popular among the people of Luxembourg. In 1766, an elaborate votive altar was manufactured on which, to this day, the Madonna is placed during the Octave. During the French revolution the chapel was profaned and later demolished. The Madonna found a new home at the Jesuit church, today known as the Cathédral Notre-Dame de Luxembourg, in 1794.

Photo: Guy Wolff /
Cour grand ducale
Already in 1666, the city of Luxembourg had chosen the Virgin Mary as patroness. In 1678, the Duchy of Luxembourg followed by chosing the Mother of God to become its patron saint as well. The celebrations were soon moved from October to the time after Easter. Baroque books of miracles tell numerous stories of answered prayers and faith healings during that time. The pilgrimage was elongated to two weeks in the early 1920's.

Since the beginning the Octave of Our Lady of Luxembourg had been a national pilgrimage. During the 19th century the devotion to Virgin Mary became an essential part of the national identity for the newly independent Luxembourg. The statue also acted as an important sign of nationality during the German occupation in the Second World War and served as a symbol of consolation and hope for many.

In 2008, the Madonna was restored by Muriel Prieur; it took her no less than 500 hours to bring the statue back in its original shape.

Over the years, the Grand Ducal Family has shown great devotion to the Statue of Our Lady of Luxembourg, Maria Mater Jesu, Consolatrix Afflictorum, Patrona Civitatis et Patriae Luxemburgensis. For example, Grand Duchess Charlotte donated the rosary that accompanied her during her years of exile during World War II to the treasury of the statue. You might also remember that during the recent wedding of Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume and Hereditary Grand Duchess Stéphanie the family offered various gifts to the treasury of the Lady of Consolation.

Generations of family members attending the Octave celebrations
(Left photo: Guy Jallay / Luxemburger Wort /

While religious festivities are held throughout the whole two weeks, the closing procession is without a doubt the pinnacle of the celebrations. Every year various family members attend the different events though they usually fly under the radar as they take part as normal pilgrims. Holding their rosary firmly in hand, many members of the family always make it a priority to be in Luxembourg for the closing procession. They are joined by Catholics from all over the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg as well as the neighbouring Lorraine, the Belgian Ardennes and the Gaume and Eifel regions.

Wort offers a livestream of this year's Octave celebrations. For information about the different events, have a look on the website of the Catholic Church in Luxembourg.

No comments:

Post a Comment