‘Brugges Schoonste Dag’ is the most special day of Brugge and has been for the last 800 years; it is the day of the Holy Blood Procession.The first procession was 1304. The Holy Blood Procession takes place every year on Ascension day. Schools are closed and some businesses as well. The history/ legend is that in 1150 after the Second Crusade the Count of Flanders, Thierry d’Alsace, brought back the relic of the Holy Blood of Jesus from Jerusalem. Now whether or not you are a fan of holy relics, or do or do not believe in them, this is the history of Brugge and important history it is. The Holy Blood procession is now on the cultural heritage of humanity list of UNESCO. There is a confrerie, Brothers of the Holy Blood, who care for the procession and for the relic of the Holy Blood and over the centuries it was of course an honor to be a confrere. 15th century Flemish painters painted portraits of this noble confrerie. There have of course been changes and there are Old and New testament stories enacted but the heart of the procession is the reenactment of the life and passion of Jesus Christ. Over 1000 actors take different costumed parts. It was a great honor to be asked to play a part in the Procession. On Ascension Day, the town squares were filled with stands/bleachers for the faithful. The processie wound around the streets of Brugge for 3 1/2 hours for all to see. There were live animals; I am told that some in past years have been difficult to manage i. e. one recalcitrant goat! Last year the procession had to be canceled because of heavy rain and the Socialist mayor quipped that if this happens again, people will say he is from the wrong party. There is a Catholic political party in Belgium.
The Heilig Bloed Processie is impressive and should be on any religious person`s bucket list! I really had not imagined how impressive! There are 1700 characters, ages 3 months, baby Jesus to over 80 years old, in rich and varied costumes from sheepherders to Jesus to Guild flag bearers. There are 250 musicians from school bands to a rolling carillon player; there are 50 horses, 16 cart horses (no trucks) 13 floats, 6 camels, 6 donkeys and 80 sheep with accompanying sheepdog and several exotic birds. I was treated to a seat along the procession route in front of the grand covered tribunal where the important clergy and politicos were seated including the Holy Blood Confrerie/brotherhood. That in itself was impressive as we went early so we could watch them all arrive, some in Mercedes with a police escort. The first thing I noticed, as we strolled the streets to the front of the cathedral and our seats, was the admirable Belgian organization. Since this is not an American cultural trait, I have not yet quite come to expect it, each school, store or restaurant along the procession route had chairs neatly lining the street in a single row each marked and numbered. These could be purchased from the Tourism office for a reasonable fee to procession watchers. Only one line of chairs, others could stand behind and be able to see. This was massive organization in a town which welcomes from 25000 to 40000 for this procession. No one assumed it would be any different and everyone was respectful no pushing shoving or discussions. I was amazed I have to admit at the courtesy and politeness of all. It was lovely and pleasant for everyone. One older man behind me dropped from the heat was immediately cared for and given a seat so he could continue watching the procession. There was no selling of anything except the program book! This was not a commercial event it was a religious procession and Brugge’s High and Special Day. Of course after watching the procession pass, 1 1\2 hour long, people dispersed to a nearby cafe or tearoom; on this pleasantly warm and sunny day a cool cola or beer Brugse Zot I am sure was welcome.