Codex Eyckensis

woensdag 15 november 2017

The devotion of the Saints Harlindis and Relindis: processions in Maaseik

The devotion of the Saints Harlindis and Relindis: processions in Maaseik

by Katrien Houbey, Art Historian

The story about Harlindis and Relindis dates back to the end of the seventh and the beginning of the eight century. The first source mentioning their lives probably dates from the second half of the ninth century. The devotion of the two sisters from Aldeneik was first written down in the so called ‘vita’. It mentions that Franco, the bishop of Liège, placed the relics of Harlindis and Relindis behind the alter of Our Lady. From that moment on they have been devoted. However, written sources about their devotion are very rare.

From 1202, the annual procession (‘bankruisprocessie’) through the parish was held during the days of Pentecost. This procession (‘cruces banales’) was some kind of an obliged tax pay system ‘in procession’ of the dependent parishes to a bishop or an abbey.
From the eleventh century, relic expositions took place as well, after the example of Maastricht, Aachen, Susteren and other cities. Later, in the fourteenth century, Aldeneik joined the tradition of the processions being held every seven years in Maastricht. Aldeneik was generally considered as a staging point for pilgrims on their way to Maastricht. 

This tradition remained in use until 1566. The organisation stopped during the Protestant Reformation when Calvinists caused many robberies and restless times in the area. At that time, the canons decided to secure their belongings and moved to Maaseik. 

In the period after 1571 the devotion of Harlindis and Relindis completely disappeared. After the shrine had been opened on 22 March 1595, the seven-annual processions were launched from 1601. This time, the events connected to the processions in Aachen.

The French Revolution at the end of the eighteenth century caused new problems. All the belongings of the church were confiscated and every form of devotion was suppressed. Luckily, all of the objects related to the devotion of Harlindis and Relindis were rescued from the French ruler.

The devotion of the two saints did not revive until 1841, when the Codex Eyckensis returned to the Saint-Catherine church. An official opening of the two shrines of Harlindis and Relindis took place in 1867. In 1871, 300 years after the canons had moved from Aldeneik to Maaseik, the time was right to commemorate that movement. The ecclesiastical government decided to organise the festivities every 25 years in honour of this event (‘translatio’).  

On 1 May 1871, the relics were brought in procession to the church of Aldeneik. Under the supervision of Bishop Theodore de Montpellier, the relics were exhibited for 10 days and adored by the faithful. On this occasion, E.H. Emile Schoolmeesters wrote a publication about the lives of Harlindis and Relindis.

The procession as we know it today consists of different groups who depict different scenes taken from the lives of Harlindis and Relindis. It was first performed in 1897. Thirteen groups walked together in the procession on the fifth and the twelfth of September.

The procession of 1922 is the first event that has been well documented. Bernard Claessens made beautiful sketches in colour of all the costumes, worn by all the participants. A complete series of twelve folios of these designs are kept in the archive of the Saint Catherine church. Nine groups of people participated in the procession from Maaseik to Aldeneik and back.

 Drawing procession 1922 (Archive of the Saint-Catherine Church Maaseik)

In 1947 a similar procession was designed by the local artist Pieter Brouns. His historical procession was organised in the streets of Maaseik and Aldeneik on 24 and 31 August. It was the first time that inhabitants from different town districts collaborated to materialize the procession and participate in it. Several choirs added to the atmosphere with live chants. On the market square, people could attend a folk concert and enjoy a stage performance. 

 Cover for the procession of 1947 (Isabelle Brouns)

The 1972 procession was completely different. It was less historical and less religious than the previous editions. The modern twist was given by the local artist Jan Peeters. He focussed on the human being as an individual throughout the centuries as a central theme. The modern approach was also reflected in the fashionable designs and costumes. Jan Peeters had a second chance to design the procession in 1997.  He decided to maintain the modern interpretation of the ancient tradition of the devotion of the two Holy Saints of Aldeneik. 

 Procession 1972 (Documentation center Maaseik)

Procession 1997 (Mathieu Coenen)

Whether this new trend will continue in 2022 remains to be seen. The preparations for this future event have already started.

zondag 24 september 2017

The Maaseik Embroideries

The Maaseik Embroideries

by (Dr) Alexandra Makin (University of Manchester, England)

In 2015 I was granted permission to study the eight embroideries that were discovered sewn to two silk fabrics. Together these pieces made up a composite textile known as the casula of Sts Harlindis and Relindis, the sister saints who lived and founded an abbey church in Aldeneik, Belgium, in the early 8th century. The embroideries actually date to the late 8th to 9th centuries and were sewn onto the silks at a later point in their history. The composite textile was discovered in a reliquary on 2nd September 1867 and they are now housed in the treasury at St Catherine’s Church in Maaseik, Belgium. In the early 1980s the composite piece was the focus of an international investigation. Although the embroideries were part of that, they were not studied from a technical perspective. This is what I wanted to do.

 The composite piece showing the embroideries along the two sides and middle, forming an ‘H’ shape.

These beautiful embroideries consist of two strips with roundel designs stitched in silk and gold thread; two strips, again sewn with silk and gold threads, in an arcade design; and four monograms. The embroidery on the monograms does not survive as well as that on the strips but there are traces of silk and gold threads worked on a painted blue linen ground fabric (a ground fabric is the fabric on which embroidery is stitched).

Top: one of the roundel strips, bottom left: a detail of one of the arcade strips, bottom right, one of the monograms.

In 2015 I was studying for my PhD at the University of Manchester, England. My research was titled, ‘Embroidery and its context in the British Isles and Ireland during the early medieval period (AD 450-1100)’. As part of this research I was analysing as many of the surviving embroideries known, or thought, to have been made in the early medieval British Isles and Ireland, that I could gain access to. To do this I took microscopic images of the embroideries so that I could see how they were made: how the design was transferred onto the ground fabric; what order the embroidery was worked; how the stitches, threads and materials were used and how this interacted with the design. I measured, amongst other things, the length of stitches; and looked at how the gold thread was held in place; and the angles of different stitches for comparison between areas on each embroidery, between the eight Maaseik embroideries, and between these and other surviving examples. From this evidence I wanted to tell the story of each embroidery - was it made by an amateur or professional embroiderer or group of embroiderers, was it made in a workshop, in one go or in stages, were all the materials from one batch or different sources etc. I used this data to contextualise the embroideries with other surviving pieces, documentary evidence and archaeological data. I could then use all of this evidence to situate each embroidery within the material culture of Anglo-Saxon England.

Microscopic images: first: arcade, middle: roundel, last: monogram. Zoom x410

As part of the research visit I was able to analyse the embroideries outside of their special climate controlled display case. This meant that a team of conservators from the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage in Brussels (KIK-IRPA), led by Fanny van Cleven, had to come to Maaseik to make sure the case was opened and the embroideries were removed and handled correctly. The conservators took the opportunity to photograph the embroideries for a digital project they were undertaking at the time. Fanny also brought with her the archive documents from the earlier international project, so I was able to see and collect data from the fibre, dye and other analyses that had taken place as part of that work. Although my interest was not with the textiles as such, this information enabled me to understand in more detail the story of the fibres and dye used to create the embroideries.

The embroideries and silks in the display case.

On the morning of my visit Anja, of the Maaseik Museum’s Department, picked me up from my hotel. I was very excited about the day ahead. We drove to St Catherine’s Church and met Fanny and her team there. I was then given my first chance of seeing the embroideries in their display case in the treasury. It was an atmospheric moment, to be able to go down the steps at the side of the sanctuary, pass the statues of the sister saints and into the dimly lit room to see not only the textiles but other important religious objects housed in their cases. As the conservators unlocked the case and took out the embroideries I took the opportunity to look round the church, which is lovely and full of history. A must see for visitors.

Once the embroideries were set out I got my first proper glimpse of these beautiful pieces. I had read so much about them but could now see them properly for the first time. Published photographs did not do the embroideries justice! Once I had got over my giddy excitement, I got to work. I took photographs of each piece as a whole and then as close-ups. I then spent the rest of the day taking microscopic images using a USB microscope that enabled me to take photographs that could be saved directly on my laptop. I also took measurements of the embroideries and their component parts, and photographs of the archival material. During lunch I met another scholar who was looking at one of the bibles, also housed in the treasury. We chatted a lot about English and German Universities, research and work opportunities.

Once the day was over, and it went so quickly, Anja took me back to my hotel. Back in my room I began to study the images I had taken and organise the data I had collected. This was just as exciting as the visit itself because I was able to see clearly the different stitches, how they had been worked and the patterns they created within each motif. I could also see how the gold thread had been stitched in place and manipulated around corners to create different shapes. All this detailed information really helped me understand how the embroideries were stitched and put together which, in turn, has enabled me to write at least part of their life story, or object biography to use the technical term.

Once I got back home to Manchester I continued the analysis. I then used the data to place the Maaseik embroideries within Anglo-Saxon material culture. In the end this became an integrated part of my PhD thesis. After passing my viva I have begun to turn the thesis into a book, which I hope to get published soon. There may also be the opportunity to put some of my results on display within the new museum that has been proposed for, amongst other objects, the embroideries. The story therefore continues and I hope that in the near future many more people will learn about and be able to see these special objects.

My warmest thanks go to everyone who helped organised the visit, looked after me whilst I was there and have helped me since.