Accepted paper:

Does the saint go marching out? Inclusivity, secularisation and religious heritage in the Utrecht St Martin celebrations (the Netherlands)


Welmoed Wagenaar (Meertens Institute)

Paper short abstract:

This paper unravels the way the Utrecht St Martin celebrations authenticate the city as heritage site. It shows how the celebrations shape experiences of 'Utrecht' as an inclusive heritagised space, foregrounding a secularised perspective which veils the Saint's religious origins from the city.

Paper long abstract:

On the evening of 10 November 2018, the streets of the Dutch city of Utrecht transformed into a spectacle of moving light sculptures, music and performance art. The inner city was taken over by the annual Saint Martin's Parade, a participatory lantern parade attracting thousands of people. The parade forms the highlight of the week-long Utrecht Saint Martin celebrations. Over the past decade, this feast has expanded from a children's procession to a multiplicity of rituals and practices symbolically reflecting the act of sharing, inspired by the city's patron saint St Martin of Tours (316-397). In 2012, the Utrecht Saint Martin celebrations became recognised as Dutch Intangible Cultural Heritage, protected by UNESCO. The Saint Martin celebrations offer insight into how heritage sites—in this case, a city—become authenticated as such. The celebration's custodians promote Utrecht as the 'Saint Martin city' of the Netherlands. The Parade in particular draws on notions of St Martin's Day as a public folk festival, contributing to this status. The celebration is meant to create and perform an inclusive urban identity based on St Martin's 'ideology of togetherness, sharing and justice'. Paradoxically, in order to accomplish this, the Saint's religious origins become contested and veiled from the city space. Based on ethnographic fieldwork, this paper investigates how the Utrecht Saint Martin celebrations aim at shaping experiences of 'Utrecht' as an inclusive heritagised space. Important here, as I will show, is the foregrounding of a secularised perspective as to guarantee a heritage that is open to all.

panel D06
Religious heritage spaces: disputes and convergences