Hasselt celebrates the miracle of the bleeding host


The Catholic community in Hasselt is pulling out all stops to mark the Sacrament of Miracle’s 700th anniversary

Woven in mystery

With the decline in the number of Catholics taking part in regular worship in Flanders, many of the rituals and traditions associated with its legends have lost their meaning, or disappeared entirely. But one miracle is experiencing a revival 700 years after it occurred.

Het Heilig Sacrament van Mirakel (The Holy Sacrament of the Miracle) is being celebrated in Hasselt and in nearby Viversel, part of Zolder. Pastor Jan Philippe, who acts as the spiritual advisor to the Confraternity of the Holy Sacrament of Hasselt, is organising the anniversary celebrations.

“In 1317, a local pastor visited a dying man in Viversel to grant him confession and last communion,” Philippe says. “The pastor left the box with the communion wafer in an empty room next door, and when he went back to get it, the wafer was lying next to the broken box. It was covered in blood.”

According to the narrative, while the pastor was with the dying man, someone tried to touch the waver when it started to bleed. “The pastor didn’t know what to do,” Philippe continues. “He decided to take the wafer to the Herkenrode Abbey in Hasselt.”

Walking through the fields, the pastor encountered a herd of sheep, which kneeled before him. When he finally reached the abbey, a clock inside began ringing on its own.

Tradition reborn

The pastor left the bleeding host at the abbey and it remained there until 1804, when it was moved to its current location in the Saint-Quentin Cathedral in the city centre. Since then, the wafer has been displayed every year on 25 July, the day when the miracle occurred.

This year marks the miracle’s 700th anniversary. In the leadup to the celebrations, the Confraternity of the Holy Sacrament is organising a 40-hour adoration in the Virga Jesse Basilica, a short walk from the cathedral.

We believe it really happened, but what’s more important is that the story represents the meaning of the Eucharist

- Pastor Jan Philip

On 25 July, the city bishop will lead a mass, followed by the annual display of the host. At the Radisson Blu Hotel, internationally renowned Catholic scholars will debate the true meaning of the wafer and the Eucharist. That evening, Hasselt will see its first Catholic procession in 40 years.

Viversel, meanwhile, is hosting a re-enactment of the miracle. The town is also organising bike tours to the cathedral in Hasselt. The tours start at a small hill in the middle of the Circuit Zolder race track, where a chapel dedicated to the Sacrament of the Miracle was erected in 1854.

Pastor Philippe has no doubt the miracle actually occurred. “We believe it really happened, but what’s more important is that the story represents the meaning of the Eucharist,” he says. “Every mass, Jesus Christ gives himself to us; that is the true wonder.”