Kevelaer is a relatively unassuming town, nestled in a marshy landscape on the lower plain.
If you didn’t read anything about it in advance, you’d think the massive crowds were coming for the expansive hiking trails, the Nordic walking track, or the thermal springs spa that opened in 2006. You’d think they were in town to enjoy the arts and crafts market or to pick up some tickets for a local theater production.
Be warned… ;-)
The 1,000,000 annual visitors are not in town for just any old arts and entertainment outing. They’re on their way to see Mary. Not just any Mary. That Mary, Mother of God.
In 1641 a poor merchant in Kevelaer heard her speaking to him and commanding him to build a chapel to her there. She spoke to him three times and also to his wife, according to records. She also manifested herself in some pictures being sold by soldiers passing through. While at first thinking himself mad, the merchant and his wife later built the chapel, and the crowds followed soon after.
Kevelaer now plays host to more than 250 processionals to the chapel each year, along with uncounted numbers of individual pilgrimages. If you have an interest in religious studies, coming here is a great education. There are stories of miracles and people from all walks of life come through town to visit the shrine and pray.
The rest of the town caters to the visitors. You can stay in one of the converted half-timber hotels, and breakfast in the square. The craft market is well known for the quality of its goods, particularly rosaries.
There is a theater troupe and a couple local bands; open air performances in summer are common so ask when you arrive in Kevelaer for the local schedule of events.