Pilgrimage to St Maurice in Valais
On September, 22nd, 2015, we rose at dawn, to join the coach leaving for St Maurice. On the way, we picked up the pilgrims from Sixt-Fer a Cheval, those from Samoens, Taninges, Cluses and Sallanches via Chamonix, and Martigny St Maurice.
During the journey, we sang the Office of Lauds, prepared by the diocesan team. The leader then read a short account of the history of this Abbey: 1,500 years of uninterrupted prayer and perpetual praise. This was to be a primordial event of great importance, as this Abbey, the first in the West, was built in the year 515, at a distance of 2 km from the place of martyrdom of the Roman Legion. The Legion, numbering 2000 men, so we were told, was destroyed for having refused to worship the Roman Emperor, on the one hand, and on the other hand, for having refused to exterminate the Christians, as demanded by Caesar. Below are the words of St Maurice, head of the Thébaine Legion, originating from Thèbes, in Egypt, known today as Louxor, words which are engraved on the altar in the Vérolliez Chapel.
“We are your soldiers, oh Emperor,
But more importantly, we are servants of God,
We owe you military obedience,
But we owe Him, innocence.
We prefer to die innocent
Rather than live in guilt.”
At 9am, with great solemnity and pomp, the Mass was celebrated at the Abbey and projected onto a massive screen in a neighbouring Church, which was completely crammed, due to lack of places in the Abbey. About a hundred Bishops, who had been invited for the occasion, Priests, Civil and Military personnel, Swiss-Guards and a contingent of the army in full uniform, entered the Church in procession, with great reverence, to the magnificent sound of the pealing of bells, followed by the sound of great, prestigious organs, accompanying the grand Abbey choir.
We were spellbound and overcome with emotion, as also was the crowd who remained standing. We were very moved and impressed by two homilies: one by Father Abbot, the other by the Pope’s representative.
After Mass, relics of the Saints-Martyrs were taken in procession, preceded by sections of local orchestras and members of different delegations. The procession was followed by speeches by officials and various authorities, who had taken up their position on a podium, in the middle of the street outside. The crowd, which had gathered, listened attentively and in silence to the speeches which succeeded one another. First to speak was Father Abbot, followed by the Pope’s representative, the Swiss Federal Counsellor, the Counsellor for Valais State and of the Syndicate of the Town of St Maurice.
The official speeches stressed the human and religious values of the martyred men of the past, but also of the men of today, all inviting us to universal Peace, to joy, to happiness, to fraternity and to the “living together”in harmony.
The ceremony ended with the blessing of a large quantity of “pain marguerite” (pastries) to be shared with the huge crowd, followed by the Papal blessing and the release of 3 white doves, and then, by about one hundred grey doves which circled round above the ravished and joyful crowd.
Once again, the bells rang out, then local brass bands enlivened the festival, during which, the cup of friendship gladdened the hearts of all present.
At about 3pm, we took the road back home, filled with great joy and the unforgettable memory of such an exceptional day.
Once again, the bells took up their festive airs, performed by a young bell-ringer, who happened to be the youngest bell-ringer in France, but who was originally from the Antoine Valley, Cordoba. He had been invited by Father Abbot to cheer the hearts of all present.