The Zwiebelkirchweih (“Zwiebelkerwe”, or in English “Onion Tart Parish Fair”) takes place every year on the 24th of August in the Semmelstraße and is the traditional conclusion of a pilgrimage that started in 1647 and continued every year from August 20 to 24 and concluded in Würzburg.
The route leads from Kreuzberg in the Rhön and back, it is lead by the “Brotherhood to the Holy Cross”. It’s a 180 km long walk, with singing and praying, and the pilgrims stay overnight in private homes on their way.
The Kreuzberg (Cross Mountain) has been a symbol of the political claim to power of the Prince Bishop of Würzburg. After secularization, it became a symbol of independence of the Franconian parts of the country and the the Kingdom of Bavaria. The previously lonely mountain range of the Rhön became the focal point of romantic and national feelings.
Today, after the procession, tables and benches are placed by the shops and inns on the sidewalk and street. At a Food stand in front of Hotel Stadt Mainz the traditionally Zwiebelkuchen is served.
Hundreds of pilgrims are received in the early afternoon by their relatives and friends. It is custom to hand over small bouquets – “Wallsträußli” – to pilgrims as they pass through Semmelstrasse. The pilgrimage ends with a sacramental final blessing in Würzburg Neumünster Church.
From Schwarzmann Biography: “There was a lot to do every year at the traditional Zwiebelkirchweih (Onion tart Parish fair), when the Kreuzberg Pilgrims returned to Würzburg after their long hike and stopped at the Hotel Stadt Mainz in the Semmelstrasse. Around 2,000 onions had to be peeled by hand, with many tears, before our father minced them into tiny pieces, faster than any machine. At that time, there weren’t any tables or benches on the street – everything was crowded in the dining room”
The pilgrimage takes place every year in the third week of August. On August 19th (Sebaldstag) the participants gather in the Neumünster church in Würzburg, the church where the three Franconian apostles are buried. According to tradition, Kilian, Kolonat and Totnan, who died a martyrs death in 689. This is where the spiritual preparation for the upcoming pilgrimage takes place. On August 20th at 4 am, the group of pilgrims set out on the 180 km long walk. The goal is the Kreuzberg, the “Holy Mountain of the Franks”, where Kilian is said to have erected the first cross as a symbol of the Christianization of Franconia.
A baggage transporter, ambulance vehicles and a coach accompany the way. The pilgrims spend the night in town halls, sports halls, inns and privately. 250 pilgrims are accommodated in the dormitories in the monastery. The spiritual and physical restoration at the destination is provided by church services, confessional opportunities, a monastery restaurant and the last Franciscan brewery in Germany.
In the lead, the pilgrim guide in a red robe, with a wide-brimmed pilgrim hat and a pilgrim’s stick. He is responsible for choosing the path and the pace of the march. Behind, the pilgrim cross of the brotherhood is carried, followed by the prayer leaders, the brass band and the pilgrim group.
The “Kreuzbruderschaft” or Cross Brotherhood was supposed to ensure a mutual support for the community and for for its members in the confusion and uncertainty of the Thirty Years’ War. This included both support on the pilgrimage of the Brotherhood to the Kreuzberg (Cross Mountain) and the promise to receive a Christian burial with a soul service at the grave of St. Kilian after death. The aim of the pilgrimage is to promote the veneration of the Holy Cross. The participants hope for a deeper faith experience in the pilgrimage community, they are also promised indulgences.
The Pilgrims from the Kreuzberg arrived back in Würzburg on August 24, 1954. Here the pilgrims move through the Kürschnerhof to Neumünster Church. At the head is the long-standing pilgrim guide Eucharius Dechant with pilgrim staff, hat, cross and flowers.
Everyone should have the opportunity to carry the cross part of the way as a gesture of repentance. A list of prayers is inscribed at eye level of the wearer. If the person says these prayers while they are being carried, certain indulgences are promised. A heavier cross is carried by the men and the lighter one for the women have always been carried.
All pilgrims are allowed to wear the corresponding cross on their chests, that once it was only reserved for members of the brotherhood. At the Kreuzberg (the Cross Mountain) the cross is wrapped in juniper and heather for the return to Würzburg.
Most active pilgrims stop and take a Zwiebelkuchen and refreshment after an exhausting 180 km (112 miles) long walk. Children meet their pilgrim parents with flowers in the Semmelstrasse greeting them walking by.
On the one hand there is something traditional about pilgrimage, on the other hand it is a communal experience in an individualized culture. It also has the character of a social utopia. It is about prayer and about an encounter with God, also about human encounters across social classes and generations.
More about the Kreuzberg Pilgrims (in German)