James Leigh describes a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Kevelaer in north-west Germany
You could be forgiven for never having heard of the Shrine of Our Lady of Kevelaer, in the northwest of Germany close to the Dutch border. But it is to this place of pilgrimage and devotion to the Mother of God that pilgrims from St Mary’s Church in Horden, Co. Durham have travelled biannually for the past 20 years, most recently at the beginning of June this year.
Origins of the shrine
The story of the shrine is a simple one — around Christmas 1641 a travelling pedlar, by the name of Hendrick Busman, was praying on the spot where the shrine now stands. Rather than seeing a traditional apparition of Our Lady such as those seen at Knock or Fatima, he instead heard a distinctive voice repeating to him `build me a chapel on this spot It was after this divine encounter that work began on the chapel which now stands on the same spot. Upon completion of the shrine a small image of Our Lady of Luxembourg, consoler of the afflicted —the size of a postcard — was installed into the chapel and there it remains to this day.
A full programme
The Shrine draws very few pilgrims from further afield than Germany and Holland. Few people there speak English and pilgrim groups from England, especially Anglicans, are a rarity! Nevertheless our group was given a warm welcome by the priests and religious of the shrine. Our accommodation was in the `priesterhaus which looked directly onto the chapel of the image and was next to the impressive basilica in which the clergy of our group were invited to sit in quire during the Sunday Mass which was celebrated by the Bishop of Munster, +Felix Genn, on the day which marks the translation of the image to the shrine.
Like our own shrine at Walsingham a full pilgrim programme was provided throughout the week. A particular highlight was the Saturday night candlelit procession around the shrine precincts, at the end of which our group was asked to sing a hymn, in English, to the assembled crowds. With no prior preparation we only had one hymn to hand and thus launched into a rousing rendition of `Ye who own the faith of Jesus’— perhaps a little presumptuous at a Roman Catholic shrine but our fellow pilgrims seemed to appreciate it!
In addition to the devotional activities, a particular feature of the shrine is the emphasis upon candles —unusually for the Continent real ones. Each day vespers took place in the candle chapel where hundreds of candles were lit around the walls, and outside in the precincts huge pricket stands were alight day and night. At the end of our pilgrimage a candle was blessed and presented to the shrine as an act of thanksgiving for our pilgrimage and as a sign of unity between our own shrine of Walsingham and that of Kevelaer.
During our time in Kevelaer we were also fortunate to make pilgrimages to Cologne cathedral, where we were guided around the relics of the Magi by Fr Richard Gardiner, a priest of the diocese of Europe. We had the opportunity to visit sites such as the shrine of Our Lady in ‘s-Hertogenbosch and the beautiful cathedral in Xanten with its memorial and shrine to martyred priests of the Holocaust.
A short flight from Stansted and a quick transfer from Weeze airport means that Kevelaer is in easy reach of many parishes and was certainly worth the trip from Co. Durham. The liturgies were celebrated with great dignity in beautiful surroundings and the sense of devotion to the Mother of God was palpable. In addition we were well looked after by our German hosts, finding ourselves each night sampling the excellent ice cream parlour close to the Shrine! May Our Lady of Kevelaer pray for us and for a deepening of devotion to her, the Mother of Our Lord!