In 1650 a young soldier by the name of Mannaert was on garrison duty in Veurne when he was persuaded by his best friend to commit a mortal sin. After receiving the consecrated wafer during Communion, he took it out of his mouth, wrapped it in a cloth, and returned to his lodgings where he charred it over a fire, under the delusion that by reducing it to powder he would make himself invulnerable to injury. The news got out, and he was later arrested, tried and executed, his friend suffering the same fate a few weeks later. Fearful of the consequences of this sacrilege in their town, the people of Veurne resolved that something must be done, deciding on a procession to commemorate the Passion of Christ. This survives as the Boeteprocessie (Penitents’ Procession; wwww.boeteprocessie.be), held on the last Sunday in July, whose leading figures dress up in the brown cowls of the Capuchins to carry wooden crosses that weigh anything up to 50kg through the streets. Until very recently, the procession was a serious-minded, macabre affair, but nowadays lots of locals clamber into all manner of vaguely “biblical” gear to join in, which makes it all rather odd.

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