Limousin septennial ostensions: a French religious tradition

Limousin Ostensions : A procession at Limoges, 2016.

Do you know about the Limousin Ostensions? Every seven years, large religious ceremonies and processions are organised in the Limousin region with the aim of worshipping and exhibiting the relics of Catholic saints. These ceremonies have a name: Les ostensions limousines.

So what are the Limousin ostensions? What are their origins? In this article, discover the importance of these ceremonies in the cultural and Catholic life of France and more specifically of Limousin. 

What does “ostensions” mean? 

Limousin ostensions are not an event that we talk about everyday. But what does the word “ostensions” mean?

According to a definition, “ostensions” are: the action of presenting a consecrated host or relics for the adoration of believers. In the case of les ostensions limousines, we are talking about a religious festival and the presentation of Catholic relics to the public. 

Across the world, in many religions, there are ostensions. I’m sure you can think of one in your country! 

Origins of the Limousin ostensions

The ritual of the Limousin ostensions is based on relics of saints being displayed to the public. These relics are usually kept in the churches of Limousin. On this occasion, they are presented in a procession so that many people can enjoy them. Les ostensions limousines take place in twenty communes including Limoges and other localities. 

Catholics and non-Catholics alike attend the procession of the relics that are accompanied by banners, flags and decorations. The preparation for these ceremonies and processions brings together people from different backgrounds in a kind of fervour. More than a Catholic religious event, it is a very old cultural tradition. It reminds us of the festivities of the past and allows us to revisit our history lessons from secondary school.

It is a very old tradition! 

The origins of the Limousin ostensions go back to the Middle Ages. The first known ostensions date back to 12 November 994 and would have started more than a thousand years ago! 

According to the legend, it is following an epidemic of ergotism that the tradition started. Ergot is a parasitic fungus that affects rye, a cereal that was widely consumed in the Middle Ages. In the autumn of 994, people who ate rye became ill. In the 10th century, this disease was seen as a divine punishment. Faced with the severity of the epidemic, the bishop of Limoges at the time organised a gathering around the relics of several Limousin saints. These were presented in procession in the town and its surroundings. Following this and the return of the relics to their consecrated places, the epidemic ceased in December 994.  This was the first ostension. From the 16th century onwards, these ostensions took place every seven years.
The history of les ostensions limousines is a little longer and more complex, but this is a summary of the subject. The last celebration was in 2016 & the next one will take place in 2023.

Les ostensions limousines : l'image d'une procession religieuse à Limoges en 2016.
Procession at Limoges , 2016.
Source: wikipedia.

Limousin ostensions – classified as intangible heritage by UNESCO

Limousin is proud of this Christian tradition. Fraternities and committees are responsible for passing on this tradition and the knowledge regarding the preparations. Certain stages of the event are codified, such as the raising of flags on the church steeples, the flowered and paved streets, the processions carrying relics and ancient works of art, etc.  

Organising this event is an enjoyable experience. Its preparation begins a year in advance and it mobilises craftsmen, associations and local clergymen. 

In 2013, the Limousin ostensions were listed as intangible heritage by UNESCO. They have a profound sense of identity for the people of Limousin. 

Today, this religious festival, which takes place every seven years, attracts many people to Limousin, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, from all over France. They come to celebrate this event which is now popular throughout France.

If you have the opportunity to stay in Limousin next year, do not forget to attend the Limousin ostensions! 

If you want to read this article in French : Les ostensions limousines : une tradition religieuse française

French language stay in Limousin

I organise language stay programs in my region of Limousin. If you wish to visit me and discover the traditions of this place during a language trip, contact me! You will be able to discover the habits and customs of this beautiful region, its culture, the beauty of its landscapes while living in an enchanting castle. You can participate in French workshops with a joyful mood! 

Do you want to study French, participate in grammar workshops and conversation classes or prepare for a French exam? Contact me for a quote or for the programme of individual & group French classes. 

Sincerely yours,

Élodie – Your Online French Teacher

French tuition, French course for groups, private French lessons

Language stay in France – Limousin – Nouvelle-Aquitaine

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