Our Lady of Handel
The church of our Lady of Handel is the oldest pilgrimage site for Mary in the province of North Brabant. The story goes all the way back to the 13th century when a shepherd would have found a little wooden statue of Mary in a hawthorn. The style of the statue refers to late 13th, early 14th century.
Since it was unknown how the statue came there, people saw this as a miracle. It was decided to build a chapel on the site.
Lack of water hindered the progress of construction. Miraculously, there welled up a little brook whose water is considered medicinal. The miracle is attributed to Mary. The brook is still there, in the park behind the chapel, surrounded by a fountain house.
Although Handel belonged to the lands of the German Order (a Catholic religious order founded in the 12th century as a military order) and therefore was German territory, the chapel didn’t escape iconoclastic attacks and looting during the first part of the Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648). Luckily the statuette of Mary as well as some other valuables were safe, hidden in the castle of Gemert.
In the 17th century life got better, thanks to the protection of the German Order who kept these lands until the end of the 18th century. The Catholic faith wasn’t prohibited in their Brabant regions. By the end of the 17th century Handel was an interregional place of pilgrimage with an increasing number of pilgrims and processions.
The first part of the 19th century was a turbulent time but from the second half of the century Handel flourished again as a pilgrimage site and still does so.
Throughout the year there are several processions to Handel with many participants but the month of May is most visited. Famous is the annual procession from Valkenswaard to Handel.
© photos: Bea and Dick Hoeks-De Laat, 2007