HISTORY

The oldest mention of the present procession is to be found in a charter of the Unloaders’Guild (1291). From it we learn that the guilds of Bruges were obliged to participate in the procession. Probably the Holy Blood was exhibited in the chapel on the Burg before 1291. And it is presumably from this custom that the procession originated.

From 1303 onwards one hears of a Holy Blood procession going round the city walls. Because the relic was town-property the procession was, of course, a civil and an official occasion in which horsemen, guildsmen and artisans, marksmen, city councillors and, naturally, the clergy, in all their splendour march with the relic.

In 1310 Bruges’ city council decided to combine the festivities around the Holy Blood, viz. its procession (May 3rd) and the two-week ceremonies, with the annual fair (April 23rd until May 22nd). As a result the numbers of those assisting at the procession and the devotion around the Holy Blood grew.
In the 15th and 16th centuries, profane scenes with giants, the Ros Bayard with the four sons of Aymon, as also the chambers of rhetoric of the city, were added to the biblical scenes (mystery plays). Due to the religious disturbances in 1578 it was considered safer to cease carrying the relic around outside the city gates. So, for the first time, the procession took place in the city centre and followed the course which, today, it still follows

Between 1578 and 1584, Bruges had a Calvinist regime. The procession was banned and the relic was taken to a place of safety. At the time of the Counter-revolution (17th century), and also in the 18th century the procession regained its religious character.

Floats with all kind of symbols and representations gave it a triumphal aspect. During the French rule, the procession was again abolished (1798-1819), and the relic placed again in safety. In the 19th century the procession was composed of the seven parishes of the city with their numerous brotherhoods, congregations and schools. During the 20th century a variety of changes in the themes and the presentation were made.

The procession is conceived in a style dating back to Bruges’ golden age (15th century), when Bruges was one of the most important harbours north of the Alps, and also a bustling commercial market and residence of the Burgundian dukes. During that period remarkable works of art were produced by the Flemish Primitives.