Thousands mark 500 years of Trier pilgrimage | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 13.05.2012
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Thousands mark 500 years of Trier pilgrimage

Nearly 500,000 people have trekked to Trier to see the robe purportedly worn by Christ before his crucifixion. The month of pilgrimage was marked by special church services, concerts and local celebrations.

By plane or train, and in some cases on bike and foot, an estimated 500,000 pilgrims from around the world came to the western German town of Trier this month. They marked a famous public viewing of the "Holy Robe," allegedly the article of clothing donned by Jesus Christ before his crucifixion.

The first stop for the pilgrims was a large, white tent offering refreshments. The hardy among them could even spend the night on cots, an offer some 500 visitors took advantage of.

Inside of a tent at Trier

An oasis at the end of a long pilgrimage

From the tent, pilgrims could cut through the small town to its cathedral, site of the relic. Long lines in this penultimate leg of the pilgrimage put some visitors' patience to the test.

At the cathedral, pilgrims were greeted by proud red and white flags. Outside the church were wooden containers where visitors could deposit their traditional pilgrims' staffs.

Celebration of faith

Brigitte Gatzen travelled from her home in Germany to Trier. She said she made the trip because she wanted to do something special to celebrate her faith. Authorities have only displayed the Holy Robe three times in the past century, and Gatzen had missed out on those opportunities.

Inside the cathedral, pilgrims found what they had come for. The Holy Robe was contained in a large box made of cedar wood with a glass cover, placed in front of the church altar. Visitors respectfully remained standing while taking in the sight, touching the container, crossing themselves and taking photos.

Trier cathedral

Pilgrims had to call on their patience one last time at the cathedral's entrance

The real deal?

According to legend, the Holy Robe was brought from Jerusalem to Trier by Saint Helen, mother of the Roman emperor Constantine, in the 4th century A.D.

Priest surround the Holy Robe relic

Worship by the shrine was silent

The archbishops of Trier long sought to conceal the garment from the public eye. But in 1512, Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian I insisted on having it shown publicly for the first time. He personally showed the Holy Robe to the parliament, which convened in Trier at the time.

The authenticity of the Holy Robe has been repeatedly questioned over the years. Even the Catholic Church concedes it is impossible to prove whether or not Christ really wore it.

But for many pilgrims to Trier, that is not really the point.

"All this is a matter of tradition," Gatzen said. "But you also have to have a bit of faith, no?'

More than 2,000 red-jacketed volunteers helped facilitate the pilgrimage once visitors were inside the city, greeting guests at the tent and staffing the cathedral.

Volunteer Wilhelmine Lautwein

Lautwein said that spirits were high

"I only have positive things to report," volunteer Wilhelmine Lautwein said. "People were in good spirits despite the bad weather. The emotions you experience are unique. You celebrate the great and the small."

The latter would include more than 4,800 children from kindergartens throughout the region who visited the cathedral over three days.

Cultural component

Every day of this month has featured extra church services at Trier cathedral to mark the 500th anniversary. Open-air services and concert were held, for pilgrims and non-pilgrims alike, in a garden at the town's Electoral Palace.

Concerts included a show by German pop band Frida Gold and a performance of Mahler's Resurrection Symphony at the Trier Arena by the German Radio Philharmonic and 400 singers from the Trier Choir.

Many museums and cultural institutions also put on special exhibitions related to the pilgrimage. The cultural center Tufafabrik put on an exhibit that took a critical look at relics.

Faiths united

The local diocese considered the pilgrimage a success, and spokesperson Judith Rupp said thousands of Catholics and Protestants attended a special "Ecumenicist Day."

Rupp said highlights also included the many personal encounters between visitors from different countries who would never meet elsewhere.

Chocolate shop owner Uwe Bonnemann

Bonnemann purveys souvenirs for those with a sweet tooth

The thousands of daily visitors over the past month put Trier cathedral also meant a significant boost for local restaurants, cafes and shops.

"My expectations have been exceeded," said chocolate shop owner Uwe Bonneman, whose biggest hit was a confection especially created to commemorate the pilgrimage.

Once Sunday Vespers bring four weeks of pilgrimage to a close, the Holy Robe will go back to a special storeroom in Trier's cathedral. There it will remain, provided with ideal climatic conditions, until the next pilgrimage - several years from now.

Author: Claudia Krell / srs
Editor: Ben Knight

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