When the last ranks finally reached the square in front of the church, they all filed in to celebrate Mass and I had lunch, imagining the dancing pilgrims with briefcases, on their way to work at a bank in Luxembourg City the next morning.
That afternoon I drove through the idyllic countryside of northern Luxembourg, keeping a loose grip on my map because I no longer thought it productive to try to avoid getting lost. Pristine villages and handsome houses with manicured lawns suggest money, and statistics bear it out. Luxembourg has the highest per capita gross domestic product in the world.
But another beautifully manicured lawn at the Luxembourg American Cemetery east of the capital, in the town of Hamm, tells a different story about a war-ravaged country and the American fighting men who liberated it from German occupation during World War II. More than 5,000 U.S. soldiers lie beneath simple white crosses, most of whom died in the brutal Battle of the Bulge.
It was Hitler's last gasp, beginning Dec. 16, 1944, six months after D-day, with a massive, surprise German offensive into eastern Belgium and Luxembourg. Many green American troops were stationed there along a seemingly quiet front, which had a southern terminus at Echternach.
As German soldiers poured into the Ardennes, the Allied Command called up the 3rd Army. It was headed by Maj. Gen. George Patton, who made his place in military history during the Battle of the Bulge. He died in a car crash just after the war and was buried at the Luxembourg American Cemetery.
Unlike other mini-states in Europe tucked into out-of-the-way mountain places, Luxembourg is in the heart of Northern Europe, making it ever a passageway and prize for foreign armies.
Its capital city, on a plateau deeply cut by the Alzette and Petrusse rivers, was a natural bastion even before a long line of conquerors added three rings of walls, 24 forts and 14 miles of tunnels.
This stout ensemble of fortifications, along with the old town it protected, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Luxembourg City's chief attraction. It is accessible along steep walkways leading to a district below the promontory known as the Grund, where elevators return sightseers to the top.
The next day, in town, I inspected the fortifications, sat with a coffee in the leafy Place d'Armes, watched a solitary, uniformed guard pace in front of the Grand Ducal Palace, the official home of Luxembourg's head of state and constitutional monarch, Grand Duke Henri, and toured the excellent Luxembourg City History Museum where I learned about Luxembourgian sports stars Johny Grün, a weightlifter who, in his prime around 1900, could lift two horses and their riders on a platform above his head; and cyclist Charly Gaul, called the "Angel of the Mountains," who won the 1958 Tour de France by dint of his performance on the race's highest stages.
Then I crossed the Alzette River valley to the enclave of conference centers and corporate offices atop the Kirchberg-Plateau, also home to Luxembourg's I.M. Pei-designed Museum of Modern Art. The beautiful building, all space and light, showcases some selections from its own collection but is chiefly devoted to top-flight temporary exhibitions, such as the one on contemporary Chinese art on display when I was there.
The museum's cafe, a whimsically decorated work of art itself with refectory tables under a pergola, was a good stop for a salad at lunch, followed by a stroll across the nearby remains of a set of French-built fortifications, these designed by Louis XIV's military engineer Sébastien le Prestre de Vauban.
On my way back to La Gaichel, I got lost again, which is how I found a partly restored 11th century castle in the village of Useldange. I climbed into its keep to get a closer look at its two towers, then sat contentedly by the nearby Attert River, where a sign described how people fished a millennium ago.
The grand duchy may be thoroughly integrated into modern Europe. But, I thought, you don't have to scratch the surface too deeply to find Countess Ermesinde, St. Willibrord and the Middle Ages.