St Gertrude Tour
The St Gertrude's Tour is still a living tradition in the 21st century : it takes place every year on the Sunday after the feast of St Michael (29th September) and one to two thousand pilgrims take part annually.
The evening before the Tour, at vespers, the shrine of St Gertrude is solemnly moved from its place and exposed in the church.
Early on the Sunday morning, it is mounted on the ceremonial wagon. At 7am the procession sets off : behind the musicians of the town band comes the wagon pulled by six cart-horses, and these are followed by the clergy and acolytes, local dignitaries, both civil and religious, and the crowd ,some carrying the "St Gertrude staff". At the Mons Gate, after the Dean's speech, the clergy and acolytes, churchwardens and members of the Tour committee lead off the pilgrims on the Tour proper, an itinerary laid down since time immemorial of 14 kilometres round Nivelles. Two stops for refreshment are made, one at The Oak, and the other at the Grand-Peine farm.
In the afternoon, the cortège re-forms with great pomp in the Faubourg de Mons and several religious and historical groups swell the ranks of the pilgrims. The horses, fed and watered, are mounted by children in angel costume waving little flags. The civil and religious authorities arrive and the solemn entry of the saint into the town takes place, preceded by band, giants and menagerie. The saintly relics remain exposed for another week (Octave of St Michael), after which in a further ceremony and mass, they are restored to their place.
The Tour represents a real act of popular faith. It is a homage given without distinction of belief to the foundress and patroness of Nivelles . Closely linked to the cult of relics, it dates far back in time, and is probably much older than its first documented date in the 13th century.
It reached its apogee in the 15th, then became a pretext for various revelries (bonfires, fairs, tournaments...) of which the town authorities finally took charge in the 16th century. In the 18th, a decree of Joseph II and then the disturbances of the Revolution put an end to the festivities, last recorded in 1793. Re-established at the beginning of the 19th century, with more emphasis on the religious aspect , it was not untill the 20th that the pomp and circumstance of historical and religious groups re-animated the fervour of the pilgrims and gave the Tour back its former sparkle.
The 734th Tour Sainte-Gertrude will be held Sunday, 5 October 2014.