Amsterdam has many faces and one of them is ‘Miracle City.’ The term is rooted in a miracle dating back to the medieval times and celebrated every year without fail. This miracle seems to have occurred in the Heiligeweg, one of the many streets along which the present-day tourists love to stroll. Dutch Catholics have been observing the anniversary of this miracle ever since. The commemoration takes the form of a Still Omgang or ‘Silent Procession’. The route of the procession takes in several landmarks related to the ‘Miracle of the Host’, known otherwise as the ‘Miracle of Amsterdam’.
Amsterdam has been a centre of pilgrimage ever since the Middle Ages. Tradition tells us that on the 15th day of March, 1345, a person lay critically ill at his home.. Feeling certain that his death was imminent, he asked for the presence of a priest in order to perform the last rites. As soon as he received the host, the last sacrament, he turned sick and vomited. Abiding by the custom, his vomit was cast into the burning fire. To everyone’s surprise, the very next morning, they found that the host remained undamaged among the ashes. Although, it was duly placed in a box and a priest took it to the parish church it was found back in the sick man’s house miraculously. It was again taken to the parish church with the same result. This miracle initiated a new tradition called the ‘Miracle Procession’ as everyone took the event as a divine sign that should be known to all. Some time afterwards, a pilgrimage chapel was constructed at the location of the miracle, the “Holy Site” or Heilige Stede and where the man’s house once stood, Kalverstraat became the Heiligeweg or “Holy Way”, the centre of the pilgrimage route.
People thronged to the city from near and far to participate in the large, magnificent Procession. In the 16th century, Amsterdam came under Protestant rule with the result that the Catholic Church became illegal and Catholic masses along with the celebration of the Miracle were banned. Saying Mass in Catholic Churches was done clandestinely. Yet, a large crowd would gather in the city in the month of March and proceed to walk as the silent procession along the Kalverstraat and through the city. None could accuse this being a celebration of the Catholics as it was mascaraed as simply a band of friends taking a walk in silence through Amsterdam.
The old tradition of depicting the Miracle Procession remained so ingrained powerfully in the minds of the Amsterdammers that all through the period ranging from the 17th – 18th centuries, people inhabiting the city somehow managed to continue with the yearly celebration but on a scale that was much diminished. The age old tradition was perpetuated within the clandestine church of Beguinage and people kept walking the same route as the original Procession.
With the restoration of the Catholic faith in the late 19th century, a plan for the Silent Procession was initiated in 1881, and grew into the present tradition, the perpetuation of the Miracle Procession which comes to an end with Mass said in any one of the parish churches in Amsterdam. Actually, the Silent Procession is manifold: for some it represents an original tradition whilst for others, the importance lies in the meditative character of the Procession. According to the spokesman of the Secretariaat van het Gezelschap van de Still Omgang “Through the silence and the absence of outward display, the participants feel bound to each other and apart from the worldly city through whose attractions they pass.”
The procession begins at Spui and winds its way through locations such as the ‘GedachteNis’, where the former Holy Stead is situated and as it reaches Rokin, it passes the Column of the Miracle and ends up in the ‘Heilige Stede’, where the once clandestine church stands. Nowadays, the silent procession is joined by not only the Catholics but people of all shades of belief. Silent, without ostentation, the Procession has become a lively tradition of the great city and in a way symbolizes the solidarity of the entire inhabitants of Amsterdam. The Still Omgang 2013 will take place on the 16th of March.
For more information on the route visit http://www.stille-omgang.nl/index_eng.htm