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One of the beauties about starting a new year is planning how you’d like to spend the months ahead. Some people may have plans to travel to Europe and, if they do, they might be able to make the trip coincide with some of the most wonderful Catholic traditions that take part across the pond.
(Don’t worry if you can’t; you can read up about them and add them to your bucket list of faith-filled activities to do alone, or with family later on.)
Here are just eight notable centuries-old Catholic traditions from Europe that have even helped put cities and their countries on the map.
Semana Santa in Spain
Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is a deeply ingrained Catholic tradition in Spain. It involves elaborate processions, religious events, and the re-enactment of biblical scenes. Seville is particularly renowned for its dramatic and emotional Semana Santa celebrations
The Feast of Corpus Christi in Poland
The Feast of Corpus Christi, celebrated nationwide but notably in Krakow and Wroclaw, involves vibrant processions with clergy, religious banners, and flower-strewn streets. The faithful gather to honor the Eucharist, emphasizing God’s love for us in giving us the Body and Blood of Christ.
Fête-Dieu in France
As in Poland, Fête-Dieu, or the Feast of Corpus Christi, is marked by processions, often adorned with intricate floral carpets, in cities like Avignon and Metz. It is a solemn occasion reflecting the French Catholic devotion to the Eucharist. If you’re lucky enough to be in Paris on the right date — the last Thursday in May — it’s moving to watch the busy streets come to a standstill as the procession takes place.
The Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain
The Camino de Santiago is a famous pilgrimage leading to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain, and has even attracted devout celebrities to follow the path. Pilgrims, known as “peregrinos,” undertake this journey for a whole variety of spiritual reasons, traversing scenic landscapes and historic towns.
The Madonna della Salute in Italy
The Feast of the Madonna della Salute in Venice is a Catholic tradition dating back to the 17th century. Pilgrims visit the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute to seek the intercession of the Virgin Mary for health and well-being. The feast day is celebrated on November 21, but it’s worth visiting the basilica on any day of the year.
St. John’s Eve Bonfires in Ireland
St. John’s Eve, celebrated on June 23, involves the lighting of bonfires across Ireland. While it has pre-Christian roots, it became associated with the feast of St. John the Baptist. Communities gather for prayers, music, and festivities around these bonfires.
Easter Celebrations in Vatican City
Easter in Vatican City is a grand affair, with the Pope leading various ceremonies, including the Easter Vigil and the Easter Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square. Pilgrims and tourists gather to witness these significant events in the heart of Catholicism and this would surely be at the top of any Catholic’s travel wish list.
All Saints’ Day in Portugal
All Saints’ Day, observed on November 1, is a time for the Portuguese to honor and remember the departed. Families visit cemeteries, light candles, and attend Mass to commemorate the saints and loved ones who have passed away. Traditionally, the day was also known as “Bread for God” in Lisbon, where 10,000 of its inhabitants were killed in an earthquake and subsequent tsunami in 1755. Survivors had to beg for food in nearby towns and villages.
These traditions help contribute to the diverse religious landscape of Europe, reflecting the historical and cultural roots of each country. Hopefully you’ll be able to experience at least one of these special occasions in the years to come, while learning more about the country and your own faith.