The saint of Maastricht from Armenia

When I read on Hayern Aysor that this year (May 24 to June 3) Maastricht was going to host the 55th annual ceremony of the march for transfer of the key to the Holy Cathedral with splendor and that more than 100,000 pilgrims were expected to participate in the event, it didn’t even cross my mind that I would witness the more impressive part of the event. I wasn’t a pilgrim and didn’t even know where I was going. Frankly, I still don’t understand how I hadn’t known about the eternal presence of my compatriot Serovbe-Servas-Servatius, who has left a trace in a large sector of Europe and in the lives of the citizens of Maastricht. Why haven’t the presses and television stations presented this Armenian trace in such a way that the Dutch city that we know has become a memory for us Armenians with its university and with the more well-known Treaty of Maastricht which, on 7 February 1992, became the bedrock for the European Union, laying the foundation for European integration. However, the capital of the Limburg state of the Netherlands, in the Old City district of which there is a confirmed historical fact that Maastricht is one of the old cities in Europe, lures thousands of people to the center, people who believe that Armenian clergyman Servatius, who reached the coasts of Europe from Armenia (some say from Van) in the 4th century, assumed the mission of advocating Christ’s doctrine and the Christian faith, is such a powerful saint that he will heal their pains even today, if they touch the tomb.

On the nearly one-hour road from Cologne to Maastricht on 2 June, it seemed as though it was going to rain, but it rained neither on the road nor in Maastricht all day long. It was so sunny that everyone could see the many flags with the image of Saint Servatius on the streets of Maastricht. For one week (27 May-3 June), Maastricht, with its gray and white buildings, celebrated the remembrance of Servatius, hosting Christians pilgrims from different countries around the world. The day of remembrance of Armenian clergyman Srbatios-Serovbe or, as the Dutch refer to him, sint Servas, who brought the torch of Christianity to Holland in 354 and, according to print sources, to Belgium in 384, is in the month of May, is marked every year, and once every 7 years, it turns into a grand celebration and pilgrimage. According to written sources, it is known that in 1496, for instance, 100,000 pilgrims participated in the event marking the day of remembrance of the saint who was loved since his living years and passed away on May 13, 384.

There are two sites on Maastricht’s tour maps that are named after the saint, including the cathedral and bridge. Although the most beautiful stone bridge of Maastricht linking the two sides of Maas river to each other and built by the Romans dates back to the 13th century, the bridge was named after Saint Servatius in 1930. It is the ‘business card’ of the city, and on tour maps it is compared with the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The citizens of Maastricht are certain that it is the oldest bridge in Holland.

The oldest church of the Kingdom of the Netherlands was built on the tomb of Servatius in Maastricht. According to tradition, Servatius was the first bishop of Maastricht. In his living years, that is, in the 4th century, small stone churches were built in the city, believers would gather around the church, and after Servatius’ death, at first, a chapel was built at the place of his burial, and later, the splendid architectural monument of our times was gradually built. With a synthesis of Roman, Gothic and other styles, the St. Servatius Basilica is located in the heart of Maastricht and…it lures people. As soon as you notice that beauty, it goes deep into your body and promises an enigmatic revelation. Before entering the basilica, you make a stop and see the cross-stone, which symbolizes the Dutch-Armenian friendship, is dedicated to the memory of Servatius and was unveiled in the territory near the wall of the church with a grand ceremony held in May 2016. Whether you’re a pilgrim or tourist, you will stand and read the inscription on the cross-stone and then approach the door of the basilica.

Before I reach the door, I show a passer-by the bronze, not too impressive statue of Servatius and ask the person who it is. “He is a clergyman who came to Holland from Armenia, he is our saint, we became Christians because of him”-this is what the nearly 50-year-old man says and looks towards the basilica, telling me the following: “come in, today there will be an exclusive holy mass there.” The church at the square is very impressive, and you can’t describe the entrance with one word, better yet, it is like a closet within which it is so silent that it seems as though the silence won’t be broken, even if people around you talk and sing. As you keep walking, you ponder and think that you are cut off from the 21st century. The area is very nice, the tiles and benches are very clean, and everything is in harmony with the environment in which the relics of the saint are deposited in a golden box that is under the supervision of four clergymen. The black apron-like clothing over the dark red shirts of the clergymen has concealed the arms of each of them so much that it seems as though they were born with 90-degree folded elbows. The Holy Mass has not begun yet.

The stairway leads everyone down. The shutter of the metal closing door is open, and a woman is keeping vigil. I notice the stone ground, there is a hole dug two feet down, and it has worn out from the kneeling of the pilgrims. When the supervisor confirmed this, I dared to draw a conclusion that the only item hung on the wall is the sky blue-white and decorated crosier, which is actually a walking stick and the only “object” and relic of the saint that is visible to us and which has served as not only a walking stick, but also a crosier that the saint touched with his hand and fingers. The other relics that are placed in the golden box and, as we saw on 2 June, are brought to the center of the basilica through a special ceremony, are kept closed. We can’t see the body of the clergymen buried underneath the heavy tombstone. The series of people who are capable of seeing the soul with their eyes are different from others, they are far from fanaticism, and the process of kneeling, touching and smiling with satisfaction leaves a magical impression. Even in the 21st century, they still believe that the saint that came to this land from Armenia listens to their prayers and their whispers and they wait for the miracle, that is, the power of his treatment.

ANAHIT HOVSEPYAN

Maastricht, Holland

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