Basilica & Willibrord

Papal Basilica of St Willibrord Echternach (Basilica minor)
Parish Church of the Parish Region Echternach St Willibrord

Catholic Church – Archdiocese Luxembourg
Archbishop: Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich

The story begins when Willibrord lays the foundation stone of his monastery around 700.

NEWS

20
JUN
Eucharistische Anbetung & Vesper
Jeden Donnerstag (ausser Schulferien)
18.30 Anbetung | 19.00 Vesper
Basilika St. Willibrord
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21
JUN
UergelPunkt12
Orgelkonzert
Freitag 21. Juni | 12.00 Uhr
Basilika St. Willibrord
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22
JUN
Te Deum für Nationalfeiertag
« Te Deum » anlässlich der offiziellen Feier des Geburtstags unseres Großherzogs
Basilika St. Willibrord Echternach
Samstag 22 juin | 20.15 Uhr
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The proud four-towered Basilica is a symbol of "Heavenly Jerusalem", a sign of God's mysterious presence on earth.

Basilica

Over 1300 years of history

698 - foundation of the monastery by Willibrord (658-739)

around 706 - first church

Around 706 Willibrord had a monastery and a modest single-nave Merovingian church built. In 1949 remains were discovered under the central nave of the current church.

Ambo

Two ambo plaques, decorated with island-style tracery, were found during excavations and transferred to the National Museum of History and Art in Luxembourg. The current ambo is a reproduction. A model of the original installation can be seen in the Abbey Museum (to the left of the Basilica).

739 - Death of Willibrord

On 7 November 739 Willibrord died in his convent on the banks of the Sûre. According to his wishes, he is buried in the church he had built.
The first two burials (739 and mid-8th century) were discovered during excavations carried out after 1945.
Since 1906 the Merovingian sarcophagus containing the bones of the saint, has been embedded in a funerary monument in Carrara marble.

around 800 - second church and crypt

Willibrord is venerated as a saint shortly after his death.
More and more pilgrims visit his tomb. Around the year 800 the small Merovingian church is replaced by a three-nave church over 60 meters long. The excavations brought to light two apses: one facing east and the other west.
The current crypt, with five barrel-vaulted naves, dates from the Carolingian building (around 800).

St Willibrord's Spring

The "Willibrord's Spring" in the crypt possibly points to a former baptistery (8th century) and recalls the missionary baptismal activities of Willibrord.

1031 - construction of a third church

In 1016 the Carolingian church is destroyed by fire. The reconstruction reuses the existing walls and is finished in 1031. The dimensions and architectural layout of this church largely correspond to those of the current building.
The arcades of the central nave have a particular shape. A large arc rests on each side on a massive pillar decorated with an egg-and-dart ornament. Two smaller arches are in between and rest on a column with a Corinthian capital. This alternation of supports is called the "Echternach system".
In the apse two Romanesque capitals have been preserved.
Under Abbot Arnold I (1242-1269) the abbey was transformed in the Gothic style (a ribbed vault replacing the flat ceiling). The rib-vaulted aisles have been preserved.

Frescoes

On the vaults of the choir in the crypt are remains of Romanesque frescoes from the 11th century, which represent scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary: Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity and Announcement to the shepherds. No other element of the rich painting decoration of the abbey church has been preserved.

1604

In the chapel of the north aisle there is an altarpiece in the form of a triptych. The central painting, work of Anton Stevens 1604/05, represents "St Willibrord blessing the pilgrims". In the upper left corner appear a group of “dancing/hopping pilgrims” with musicians. This is the oldest pictorial representation of the Dancing Procession.

St Sebastian's Chapel

St Sebastian's Chapel, adjoining the chancel, was built in 1635 under Abbot Pierre Fisch. An early Baroque altar shows a painting from 1638 with the plague saints Rochus and Sebastian as well as donor Abbot Fisch (+ 1657). Richly ornamented wall niches are intended to display relics.

1678

In 1678 the cubic Romanesque capitals were recut into Corinthian capitals.

1700

The two monumental statues of St Benedict and St Willibrord come from the new high altar made around 1700.

1794 - French Revolution

In 1794, the town of Echternach was taken by French Revolutionary troops who plundered the abbey. It is the end of the Benedictine presence on the banks of the Sûre, and of the over one thousand years' activity of the monks.
The abbey was transformed into a pottery and later into a place of military exercise. In the middle of the 19th century, part of the building fell into ruins.

1868 - reconstruction of the building

The 'Willibrordus Bauverein', founded in 1862 by the citizens of Echternach, takes charge of the reconstruction of the building. The towers of the west facade are rebuilt (according to the plans of the cathedral architect of Trier Chr. W. Schmidt) and a new porch is built according to the plans of August Othmar Essenwein (from Nuremberg). The church is rededicated in 1868.

1906

In 1906, the remains of St Willibrord were transferred from the old parish to their original burial place. The Carrara marble funerary monument is designed by Wilhelm Schmitz (architect of the Cathedral of Trier) and by P. Ludgerus Wilhelm Rincklake (Maria Laach). The realization is the work of sculptor Guiseppe Novi (Genoa).

The funerary monument

The Merovingian sarcophagus with the remains of the saint is encased in the Neo-Gothic funerary monument, which depicts scenes from Willibrord's life.

Choir stalls

The choir stalls were created in 1912 by Théophile Klem from Colmar (F). An astonishing woodcarved bestiary bears witness to the great skill of the artist.

1939 - Basilica Minor

Major repairs were carried out in 1939, under the direction of Clemens Holzmeister and Dominikus Böhm, in view of the 1200th anniversary of the death of St Willibrord. Anton Wendling (Aachen) creates new monumental stained-glass windows. The sanctuary receives the title of Pontifical Basilica (Basilica Minor).
On the occasion of the jubilee of 1939, the saint's tomb was transferred to the crypt, in the immediate vicinity of the first burial place.

1944

The shelling of the Second World War largely destroyed the town of Echternach. In December 1944, retreating German troops blew up the Basilica.

1953 - Consecration of the rebuilt Basilica

After the war the reconstruction of the Basilica is considered a national priority. The work is directed by State architects Hubert Schumacher and Michel Heintz in collaboration with the Willibrordus Bauverein. Mgr Leo Lommel, future bishop of Luxembourg, acted as a counsellor with his great knowledge of art.
The western facade is entirely rebuilt according to the model of the former abbey church of Paray-le-Monial in Burgundy. The two eastern towers (razed in the 19th century) are rebuilt during the reconstruction. The vault of the central nave is replaced by a flat wooden ceiling. On September 20, 1953 the church is consecrated again.

High altar

The high altar, hewn out of a Roman travertine block, shows reliefs with the symbols of the four gospel writers, designed by the Luxembourg artist Auguste Trémont.

Confessio altar

The confessio altar is decorated with an open wave motif, which, through a light shaft, connects the altar with St Willibrord’s shrine.

The confessionals

The confessionals in the aisle chapels were created for the former Jesuit church and present-day cathedral in Luxembourg City, at the beginning of the 17th c. They are among the most important early baroque sculptures in the Grand-Duchy.

Stained glass from 1952/53

The stained glass windows immerse the Basilica in a magnificent sea of colour.
The windows of the choir (by Jacques Le Chevallier) show St Willibrord in adoration before the Holy Trinity. On the left and on the right we recognize Peter and Paul, the two princes of the apostles, patrons of the first abbey church, as well as the symbols of the evangelists.
In the transept you can see the windows by Echternach's artist François Gillen: on the left (north side) the seven Sorrows of the Virgin, on the right (south side) the seven Joys.
In the side aisles are depicted scenes from the life of St Willibrord (works by Jean Barillet, Théodore Hanssen and Gustave Zanter).
The stained glass windows of the central nave (north side: François Gillen, south side: Emile and Joseph Probst) evoke outstanding figures of the Benedictine order and personalities in connection with Willibrord and his abbey.
The rose window on the west facade (Emile and Joseph Probst) shows the astronomical signs of the zodiac.

Torso

The torso of Christ crucified is a remnant of a 19th century mission crucifix, wich was destroyed when the Basilica was blown up in December 1944.

The hanging cross

The hanging cross above the altar combines a late Gothic corpus (Northern France ca 1500) and a modern iron cross. In 2022 the German artist Johannes Nagel used traditional forging techniques to represent Christ on the tree of life.

Madonna

Madonna and Child, a late Gothic sculpture made of lime wood, partially original polychromy (South Germany around 1470). The moon face refers to the Apocalypse (12,1): "a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet" and the grape is to be considered as a symbol of the Eucharist.

Visitor Center

The Visitor Center (entrance in the left side nave) offers the visitor a survey of the construction history of the Basilica and of the Dancing Procession. A memorial tablet recalls the inscription of the Procession on UNESCO’s list of Immaterial World Heritage on November 16th, 2010. The large painting was created by Lucien Simon for the Paris International Exhibition of 1937.
In the old funerary corridor (access to the Sacristy), now a lapidary museum, are fragments of funerary monuments and statues from the abbey church before the French Revolution, as well as the clapper of the old St Sebastian bell (destroyed in 1944), and two statues from the orangery.

European Heritage Label

In 2022, to honor the work of St Willibrord in its European context, the Basilica receives the European Heritage Label. In addition to the Basilica with the crypt and the documentation center (visitor center), the classification also includes the old conventual buildings and the Abbey Museum.

European Heritage Label

The Basilica is the burial church of its founder, pilgrimage church and parish church at the same time.

Media

Flyer (Guided tour) in different languages

WILLIBRORD

658 - 739

658

Willibrord was born in 658 in Northumbria. The young noble was educated as an Oblate at the monastery of Ripon by Abbot Wilfrid, Bishop of York and defender of Roman traditions as apposed to insular particularism.

688

At the age of 20, Willibrord left for Ireland to place himself under the authority of Abbot Egbert at Rathmelsigi (Clonmelsh, today County Carlow). He received priestly ordination there in 688.

690

Impregnated with the taste of the "peregrinatio", the mystical current advocating the renunciation of one's earthly homeland in order to go and preach the Gospel to the pagan populations, Willibrord made his way to the continent in 690 with 11 companions to evangelize the Frisians, among others.

695

In 695 Willibrord went to Rome where he was consecrated bishop by Pope Sergius I, who gave him the Latin name of Clemens. He received the pallium, symbol of the pastoral charge of metropolitan archbishops. Willibrord was appointed Archbishop of the Frisians and established his see in Utrecht.

Missionary

Willibrord worked in close collaboration with the mayor of the Merovingian palace and placed himself under the authority of the Pope in Rome. It was important to him to create a well-structured church based above all on indigenous forces. Willibrord sook the support of secular rulers, which was to become a characteristic aspect of his missionary work.

698 - Foundation of the abbey

In 698 Irmina of Oeren (Trier) donated to Willibrord a property in Echternach, a donation supplemented by that of Pepin II and his wife Plectrude. Willibrord founded an abbey there which would become the starting point for his missionary journeys among the Frisians, in Flanders, in the Rhineland, in Thuringia and even in Denmark.
He suffered many setbacks until Charles Martel submitted Radbod, king of the Frisians, a fierce opponent of Christianization.
In 719 Willibrord was joined by Winfrid, better known as Boniface. The latter stayed with him for 3 years before leaving to proclaim the Gospel in Germany.

IN DEI NOMINE FELICITER

At the time of celebrating his 70th birthday, Willibrord inscribed in the margin of his calendar the main stages of his missionary life before concluding with the formula: 'In Dei nomine feliciter', a reflection of his absolute trust in God.

739

Willibrord died at the Abbey of Echternach on 7 November, 739. According to his wishes, he was buried there in the church he had built. Soon after his death Willibrord was venerated as a saint.

Hagiography

The most important sources on the life of St Willibrord are the "Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum" by Beda Venerabilis (638-735) and the accounts written by Alcuin (735-804) around 797 and by Abbot Thiofrid (1081- 1110) three centuries later. These texts, partly legendary, spread the reputation of the saint in the churches and monasteries of Cisalpine Europe.

The veneration

The so-called Saint Willibrord fountains mark out the missionary's route and testify to his baptismal activity. Very early on they are considered by the faithful as a remedy against certain nervous diseases, especially those affecting children. Many German, Belgian, and Dutch churches retain the patronage of the saint.

Papal visit 1985

On May 16, 1985, during his pastoral visit to Luxembourg, Pope John Paul II visited the tomb of Saint Willibrord. Afterwards, there will be an encounter with the Luxembourg youth in the abbey courtyard.

Rathmelsigi - Carlow

During the seventh and eighth centuries the archaeological site of Rath Melsigi, County Carlow, is the most important Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastical settlement in Ireland. It was here that Willibrord and many other Englishmen were trained for the continental mission.
In 690 Willibrord led a successful mission from Carlow, made up of Irishmen and Englishmen. Willibrord established an important scriptorium in his Monastery of Echternach, and for a considerable period the Abbey produced many of the bibles, psalms and prayer books that are to be found today in the great libraries of Europe. It is likely that the first generation of these scribes were from County Carlow or had trained here.
In 2019 the restored early medieval Cross of Rath Melsigi is inaugurated in the presence of a delegation from Echternach, led by Mayor Yves Wengler.

The Carlow Connection

In June 2017 a joint ecumenical diocesan pilgrimage of nearly sixty people travels from Carlow to Echternach to partake the Dancing Procession.
Denis Nulty, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, receives a Relic of St Willibrord, presented by the Archbishop of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Hollerich, to honor the historical link.
In late June 2017, twenty-nine visitors came from Echternach to County Carlow to participate on the Walk with Willibrord, where the Relic was walked from St Laserian’s Cathedral (Church of Ireland/ Anglican), to the Cathedral of the Assumption (Roman Catholic).

Media

Dancing Procession

Pentecost Tuesday

Every year on Pentecost Tuesday, the Dancing Procession is celebrated with fervor and attracts thousands of participants and as many spectators, as well as some forty musical ensembles. It is a question of honoring the memory of Saint Willibrord, a saint of European stature, often called the Apostle of BENELUX or the Apostle of Europe.

The origins

Already in the 11th century, Abbot Thiofrid mentions a massive influx of pilgrims. It is only at the end of the 15th century that the "dancing saints" are mentioned, i.e. those faithful who have committed themselves by a vow to participate in the procession by dancing. At the end of a pilgrimage which lasts several days, they hop through the streets of Echternach according to the principle "Like is healed by like". This is how they try to cure or prevent diseases such as epilepsy, chorea or ergotism. It cannot be said with certainty whether these are medieval dances or whether pre-Christian worship elements have blended into the "dancing procession".

Map of the Dancing Procession

World Heritage

On November 16, 2010, UNESCO inscribed the Dancing Procession on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural World Heritage.

Intangible cultural heritage in Luxembourg (IKI)

Media

Pilgrimage

History of the cult

Very soon after the saint’s death, more and more pilgrims visited the tomb of St Willibrord. The so-called Saint Willibrord fountains, which mark out the missionary’s route, are considered by the faithful to be sacred places. Hagiographies spread the legend of the saint in the churches and monasteries of Cisalpine Europe. Many churches bear his name.

Intercessor with God

Willibrord is invoked as a protector against nervous disorders, epilepsy and childhood illnesses. Today, the saint is invoked in all situations of modern man’s distress: e.g. healing from an illness, foresight in the face of important decisions, firmness in questions of faith, strength and support in facing vicissitudes of life.

Apostle of Europe

Willibrord, a great European missionary, preached the word of God to many nations. He found his strength and assurance in his faith in Jesus Christ. His example encourages us to welcome God’s good news as a source of joy and peace for Europe today.

Every Monday: Pilgrimage Mass

Every Monday at 9 a.m., the Holy Eucharist is celebrated at the saint’s tomb for pilgrims, the archbishopric and the universal Church.

The Octave in honor of St Willibrord

The Octave in honor of St Willibrord (around November 7) is a week of pilgrimage and various celebrations. The faithful of the various deaneries of the archbishopric travel to Echternach to honor the secondary patron of Luxembourg and to visit his tomb in the crypt of the Basilica.

November 7: Feast of Saint Willibrord

On November 7 the Church commemorates St Willibrord. In Echternach the feast of the patron saint is celebrated with great solemnity.

Pilgrimage groups

The Basilica, as the burial place of its holy founder, is an important place of pilgrimage.

Church services tailored to parishes and individual groups are possible. Please contact the parish office.

Media

Pilgrimage office

Are you planning a pilgrimage to Echternach or a visit of the Basilica? Please contact us, we will be happy to help you.

Pilgrimage office

Office hours:
Tuesday to Thursday
10.00 a.m. – 12.00 p.m

12, Porte St Willibrord
L-6486 Echternach
We can be reached outside office hours via email or telephone.

Information

Address
St Willibrord’s Basilica
12 Porte St Willibrord
L-6486 Echternach

Access and opening hours
The entrance is free.
The Basilica is open to the public every day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
A ramp for people with disabilities or in wheelchairs is located at the left entrance of the Basilica.

Visit the Basilica
The visits are made in the greatest calm and with the greatest discretion.
During liturgical services visits are not permitted.
On Sunday (and on public holidays) visits are only possible from 1 p.m.

Visitors are invited to respect the sanctity of the place.
Remain silent (or speak only in a low voice), do not telephone, do not eat or drink, do not smoke.
Animals are not allowed.
As a sign of respect, men are invited to remove their hats when entering the Basilica.

Visitor Center
Access to the Documentation Center is located in the left side nave of the Basilica.

It is open :

  • April to October daily from 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. – 5 p.m.
  • from November to March only on weekends from 2 p.m. – 4 p.m.

Guided tours
To arrange a guided tour, please contact the Parish Office (+352) 72 72 96 / iechternach@cathol.lu 
or the Regional Tourist Office of the Mullerthal Region – Luxembourg’s Little Switzerland guidedtours@mullerthal.lu

Texte: Alex Langini, Pierre Kauthen, Francis Erasmy

Fotos: Peuky Barone, Nico Dom, Francis Erasmy, Philippe Fauvel, Serge Feltes, Margret Friedrich (Fotostudio Creativ Echternach), Tom Osborne, Peda-Kunstverlag, Luc Schreiner, Pierre Weber, Frank Wilhelm

Archive: Pfarrarchiv, Archiv Willibrordusbauverein

Virtual visit