Intangible cultural heritage includes traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants. This heritage includes oral traditions, the performing arts, social customs, rituals and festive events, knowledge and practices related to nature and the universe, or the knowledge and know-how of traditional handicrafts. Intangible cultural heritage as such can only be recognized by the communities, groups or individuals who create, maintain and pass it on.
Intangible cultural heritage is at once traditional, contemporary and dynamic. Since it also includes the rural and urban practices of today. It evolves because it is rooted in communities, and it depends on those whose knowledge of traditions, skills and customs is passed on from generation to generation or to other communities.
Whilst it is fragile, intangible cultural heritage is an important factor in maintaining cultural diversity in the face of growing globalization. Having an understanding of the intangible cultural heritage of different communities is indispensable to intercultural dialogue, and encourages respect for other ways of living.
The Hopping Procession of Echternach
The Hopping Procession of Echternach takes place every Whit Tuesday as a tribute to the Irish monk Willibrord (658-739) who was the founder of the Abbey of Echternach. The origin of the Hopping Procession, considered by some to date back to the Middle Ages, remains unclear. According to the legend, Guy (Latin Vitus; German Veit) was under sentence of death and asked to play a tune on his violin before being hanged. His melody so bewitched the onlookers that they began to dance and could not stop even when they sank into the ground. The violinist managed to escape, and only thanks to Willibrord could the spell be broken. Willibrord was then worshipped as the healer of the nervous disease called “St Vitus’ Dance”.
The pilgrims line up in rows of 5 or 6, joined by the handkerchiefs they hold, folded in triangles. They move forward with hopping steps to the rhythm of the brass bands playing the popular melody « Adam had seven sons ». The procession leads them through the alleys of Echternach till they reach the tomb of Willibrord in the crypt of the basilica. Every year, this tradition attracts thousands of pilgrims and spectators.
On 16th November 2010, UNESCO’s intergovernmental Committee for the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage voted unanimously to place the Hopping Procession of Echternach on the list representing the intangible cultural heritage of humanity.