The Silent Procession of Amsterdam: One Man’s Vomit Becomes an International Blessing

Every year in March, people from around the globe gather in the Holland’s city of Amsterdam to participate in the Stille Omgang, or "Silent Procession", also sometimes called the "Miracle Procession". This procession commemorates the ‘Miracle of the Host’ which is suppose to have occurred on March 15, 1345. This is a beautiful ritual to commemorate a miracle with origins that are less than romantic. Though it started in the 16th Century as a Catholic festival, the Stille Omgang has transcended organized religion and evolved into a spiritual pilgrimage for people of all faiths.

Amsterdam has long been a popular destination for folks looking to indulge in a drug induced haze of enjoyment. Vacationing young rebels and aging hippies can be found everywhere in Amsterdam, particularly from the United States, all of whom see Amsterdam as an exotic place for extended jaunts of decadence and debauchery. Not only are many ‘illegal’ drugs legal in Amsterdam, but so is prostitution, both regulated by the government. Tourist and pleasure seekers come from world wide to chug the potent Holland beer (that flows freely through the region), light up funny smelling cigarettes, and seeking the historic Absinthe Bar in the Red Light District.

No statistics are available, but it’s possible that all this partying going on make Amsterdam not only the capital of the Netherlands, but also the city containing the highest per capita of individuals inebriated in multiple ways on earth. Yet, this city’s seeming dedication to libertine values has a surprising spiritual underside that dates back centuries. The best expression of this is the Stille Omgang, or "Silent Procession".

Stille OmgangAccording to legend, a man in medieval times lay dying in his home on Kalverstraat. Perceiving that the end was near, his wife – or maybe it was his daughter or his maid – sent for a priest to perform Last Rites. The priest gave the man the Holy Eucharist (a piece of consecrated bread used in numerous Catholic rites), but the poor fellow couldn’t keep it down. He vomited up the spiritual biscuit. The woman of the house threw the vomit into a fire. But lo and behold, the expelled sacrament did not burn. Some versions of the story say it levitated over the flame; other versions have the piece of bread sitting unharmed in the center of ashes after the fire burned all night. The woman caring for the sick man reached in and pulled the wafer out. A further part of the legend say the woman put the sacred piece of bread in her hand then placed her hand directly in the flames and her hand was unharmed. Needless to say, all involved in this incident were astonished. But, wait, there is even more to this story …

The woman locked the inexplicably flame-retardant bread in a metal box and gave it to the priest, who brought it to his church. The next day, when the priest opened the box, the sacrament was gone. Somehow this vomited piece of bread had made its way back to the dying man’s home. The priest returned to the house on Kalverstraat. Again he carried the sealed sacrament back to his church. And, again, it mysteriously dematerialize at the church and re-materialized in the dying man’s house the next morning.

When the same thing happened a third time, the priest and the dying man’s family were convinced they had experienced a bona fide Miracle (either that or someone on the Starship Enterprise was having too much fun with the transporter). The priest, family and neighbors alerted everyone to this miracle and, in a joyous procession, the townsfolk bore the sacrament once more from Kalverstraat to the church. The thinking was that God wanted everyone to know about this miracle and the only way to make this piece of spiritual bread STAY at the church was if everyone got involved. Apparently God was satisfied that word of His miracle had gotten out because this time He let the vomited Eucharist stay in the church. And there it remained for the next two hundred years – until rose to power in Amsterdam and tore the church down.

Protestants also outlawed all Roman Catholic processions during the Reformation in the Netherlands in the 16th century, so the annual festival celebrating the vomited-unburnable-bread miracle could not be held. After a while, though, underground Catholics figured out how to commemorate the Miracle of the Holy Sacrament without persecution. Every year on March 15, in total silence, they walked the procession route from Kalverstraat to the area where the church once stood. Since there were no laws against quietly walking, Protestant authorities did not interfere.

Today, Amsterdam is a city of religious tolerance and the tradition of the Stille Omgang lives on. It has become the climactic event after a week of festivals and celebrations that begin on March 12. Participants (whose numbers top 10,000) are still mostly Catholics, though every year more and more non-Catholics join in. For them, the Stille Omgang represents any number of things, including the power of solidarity in the face of oppression. The fact that the walk includes no songs, prayers or words of any kind gives the proceedings a spiritual open-endedness.

The Stille Omgang may be one of the best examples of the Lord working in mysterious ways. Perhaps it is proof that God has a sense of humor. A medieval man’s gastro-intestinal distress reverberates in modern times, inspiring international, cross-denominational unity through the unusual, spiritual event called the Stille Omgang.

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