The Fiertel Procession
Mentally ill believers from every corner of the country came to Ronse on pilgrimage, hoping to be cured by St Hermes, throughout the Middle Ages. The condition for receiving a cure was some physical austerity in return. This is the origin of the Fiertel Procession, an annual 32.6 km (20 miles) walk.
The reliquary of St Hermes, led by the bellman, is carried in a wide circle around the city on the Sunday after Pentecost. This ensures that everyone inside the circle is protected against mental illness and other afflictions. These days more than 5000 enthusiastic residents of Ronse and sympathisers take part in the Fiertel. For most Fiertel participants, the activities start at 7:00 a.m. with a Mass. By tradition, the mayor asks the Rector for permission to take the reliquary out of the basilica. In the meantime a mass of people gathers on the Kleine Markt, in front of the entrance to the basilica, and the procession can start. The reliquary is placed on a bier and carried on the shoulders of four bearers. The bellman, who sets the rhythm with two bells, leads the procession. The dignitaries of the city climb aboard carriages and the long trail of pilgrims starts moving, climbing the steep Kruisstraat towards the Muziekbos. Via the Lorette chapel the procession continues to Ellezelles, over unpaved roads to Saint-Sauveur, Wattripont and Russeignies. By midday the walkers have covered 25 km, and they gather their strength for the last few kilometres. Via Ten Hotond mill, the thousands of pilgrims take the reliquary down the Kruisstraat, re-entering Ronse. Before the reliquary is returned to its spot in the basilica, a colourful, historic parade about the life of St Hermes and the history of Ronse concludes the procession.