In 1959 Brigitte and I took a minor part in the seventeenth Great Pilgrimage in Trier, Germany, and saw there the Holy Robe on display. This was, you might say, our farewell to Germany as well. The next year we came to the U.S. as a family. The German Postal Service decided to help us mark that event by issuing a 20 Pfennig memorial stamp for the occasion, shown on the left; it features an image of the robe itself. The text says: Display of the Holy Robe in Trier 1959. German Federal Post.
So rapid is the rush of time, so great the change in all things historical, Trier is not a city known to many in these United States. But it is the oldest city in Germany, founded in 17 BC subsequent to Caesar’s presence there and his conquest of, among many other Belgic tribes, the Treveri, a Celtic-speaking Germanic tribe (per Tacitus); the name is thought to have come from the Celtic tre-uer-o, meaning “to cross a river” or “across the river”; they were said to be ferry-men who facilitated transportation across the Mosel river at a point where, later, the Romans built a bridge. Trier, as we now call it, located in Rhineland-Palatinate, also served for more than a hundred years (286-395) as the capital of the Western Roman Empire. Constantine ruled there for ten years (306-316) before moving on to lend his name to Constantinople.
Now the Holy Robe had also to do with Constantine. Legend has it that it was Jesus’ robe, a seamlessly woven garment that had come into the possession of Helena, Constantine’s mother, around 327 or 328. And it is said that she either presented or sent the robe to Trier where once her son had ruled. The date of this presentation is lost in time. But the robe was stored in an altar of Trier’s St. Peter’s Cathedral consecrated for that purpose in 1196. Since then we have had an historical record of the garment. Pilgrimages to Trier began in the sixteenth century and have taken place 1512, 1513, 1514, 1515, 1516, 1517, 1524, 1531, 1538, 1545, 1655, 1765, 1810, 1844, 1891, 1933, 1959, 1996, and 2012. So we were at the seventeenth of these. Since 1996 more or less annual festivals, called the Holy Robe Days, have been held, and the next Great Pilgrimage is projected to 2033—to mark the two thousandth anniversary of Christ’s resurrection. We will be gone by then.
Now it happens that, in 1959 we lived a mere 50 miles to the east of Trier, about an hour’s drive away. A day in Trier was a occasional outing for us to the nearest big city. We lived then in the vast and mostly empty Baumholder military camp—mostly empty because it was and is an artillery firing range. A very pleasant trip, a lovely drive, and there a wondrous city with Roman structures, not least the Porta Nigra, the remains of a coliseum, three Roman baths, and of course Der Dom, the St. Peter’s Cathedral—one of several. And two large market places with good shopping—not least an ice cream shop with coffee ice cream always available.
Memories. Augusta Treverorum indeed. Sometimes, as Aldous Huxley once wrote, Time must have a stop. Trier was always one of those times for us.