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Festa del Corpus Domini, May 2013

The Festa del Corpus Domini

The Festa del Corpus Domini

Following the Sound of Drums

Following the Sound of Drums

We are walking quickly, in the direction of the drum beats, following everyone else. Families, children, the young and old all seem to be on a mission; follow the sound of the drums. The late afternoon breeze is filled with the scent of honeysuckle. Mass growth of the plant sweeps the doorways, covers the walls.  You can smell it before you see it.  When I come upon the blooms they are dripping with buzzing bees. There are large nosegays of flowers tied outside the shops and houses on walls and doors; their streamers gently swaying as if they too are in the procession.

The Flowers of Orvieto

The Flowers of Orvieto

DSCN0678Hanging from the rooftop windows are giant flags representing guilds or neighborhoods. Old women, arm in arm,  softly chatter as they slowly make their way up the hill. We feel the festive atmosphere as we make our way to a street corner where a police officer stops us.  We move to the front, in a narrow gap, as SB gets our camera ready.  Between the edges of the towering buildings the narrow street is completely filled with spectators.  The drums are coming!

We are witnessing the festival of the feast of Corpus Christi. It is by happenstance that we picked this week and month to be in Orvieto. I knew nothing of Festa del Corpus Domini before we arrived, but I am so glad we were able to be part of the celebration.

In 1263, a German priest, Peter of Prague, stopped in Bolsena while on a pilgrimage to Rome.  He was described as a pious priest, but one not quite believing that Christ was actually present in the consecrated host, as Catholics believe.  While celebrating Mass he had barely spoken the words of Consecration when blood started seeping from the host and trickled over his hands onto the altar and the corporal (the napkin looking thingy)  The priest was shocked and at first attempted to hide the blood, but when it did not stop, he interrupted the Mass and went to the neighboring town of Orvieto, where Pope Urban IV was.  The Pope immediately sent emissaries for an investigation.  Pope Urban ordered the Host and linen cloth be brought to Orvieto bearing the stains of blood. Among the archbishops, cardinals and other church dignitaries in attendance, the Pope met the procession and with great pomp, the relics were placed in the Cathedral of Orvieto. The linen corporal bearing the spots of blood is still reverently enshrined and exhibited in the church.  Once a year this scene is re-enacted when hundreds of people from Orvieto and neighboring towns gather in the streets of Orvieto. People are dressed as peasants, soldiers, crusaders, farmers and land owners. There is representation from the guilds, police, firehouses, nurses, missionaries, nuns, civic groups and women’s groups.  The dignitaries follow the priests and cardinals as the relics are carried through the streets to the beat of drums. After the last person of the parade passes, the crowds fill in behind and make the walk to the cathedral where there is more pomp and circumstance before the huge tapestries and relics are carried back into the cathedral for another year.  The parade goes on for over two hours with the celebrants walking over four miles through the narrow lanes of winding Orvieto. The drums echo through the streets and the music and singing from the Cathedral are played over loud speakers throughout the town. At the end of the parade the Mass is also heard over the loud speakers for those not able to get inside the huge cathedral.  This entire scene is repeated the next day as well.  It must take months of planning. I would love to know how many people work on all those costumes. They are so intricate, authentic looking and detailed. Where do you find that many cross-bows, jousting poles and swords? How many bouquets of flowers are made to decorate the streets? How many baskets of bread and grain are carried to the church? It is truly a festival for everyone and one I will remember forever. SB caught on video over four hours of the festivities.  That is a long time to hold a camera up and stay steady as well.  I want to thank him for that. I produced a clip of eight minutes highlighting the event.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

The Girls

The Girls

The Crowds at the Cathedral

The Crowds at the Cathedral


The Cathedral in Quiet

The Cathedral in Quiet

As we followed the crowds to the cathedral we took a break and ducked into a smaller church along the route.  The entire center aisle of the church was covered in a beautiful design of flower petals. As the congregation of people walked over the petals to the black wrought-iron gate at the front of the church they picked up the petals to carry with them.  I followed suite and then sat in a pew to watch. Behind the black tall gate were rows of nuns.  As the guests recognized a nun there was hand reaching and hand holding through the gate and cries of joy to see each other.  I had the feeling these nuns belonged to a cloistered group and this was a special day to see their relatives. Very young nuns sat on the steps at the sides of the altar behind the gate and called out to young children to come see them.  It was a beautiful and happy scene.

Flower Petal Church

Flower Petal Church

After the Mass at the cathedral we decided to dine at a lovely restaurant complete with the wooden mosaic designs on the walls.  It was around seven in the evening, very early by European standards to dine, so we were one of the first to get a table at Ristorante Maurizio.  I am so glad we did because soon the entire restaurant was filled to capacity.  The lights were dimmed and the candles lit, throwing a soft light on the flax and white colored table cloths and beautiful meal. It was an end to a perfect day.

The Restaurant

The Ristorante Maurizo


The Rooster Work

The Rooster Work

Ristorante Maurizio: Via Duomo 76, Orvieto, Italy

Way Up the Hill and to the Left

The Walls of Orvieto

The Walls of Orvieto

DSCN1004It is early morning; sunny, warm, windless with bright blue skies and today we are leaving Cinque Terre.  We snake single file down the hill, and flow through the tunnel hearing  only the sound of “clickety-clack” as  the suitcases bump  over the rough pavement to the train station.  We begin our four train adventure to La Spezia, Pisa, Florence, and then to Orvieto in Umbria. In Florence when we switch trains who do we meet? The Bag Handler approaches SB, takes one look at me and quickly turns away. (See blog “On to Florence”) At one of the many small town stops on our last leg to Orvieto an odd looking man boards.  Short haired, clean shaven wearing floor length grey robe tied with a rope belt, he is covered in pale grey.  Grey ash colored paste covers his hair, face and even his eyelashes, his hands. He walks slowly up and down the train aisle, as if wanting us all to recognize his presence. No one says a word, no words form on his lips. As he is ignored I am thinking, is this man a priest? Is he in some sort of penance? Can I take a picture of him, I think?  No, that would not be right.  What if he was a wayward priest? I want to ask someone who he is, but the travelers keep their noses in their papers or books or look away. At the next stop he departs the train. My eyes follow him into the crowd.

Arrival at Train Station in Orvieto

Arrival at Train Station in Orvieto

By late afternoon we step off the train and look up and up.  Orvieto’s old town walls loom above us, touching nothing but blue sky and fluffy sheep clouds. It is warm and balmy and I begin to peel off my layers of clothes.  I don my sunglasses as we hail a cab to take us to the height of the old village, to B&B Michelangeli, the apartment we have rented in Orvieto. Winding outside the steep fortified walls we climb higher and higher, it is rather like a top spinning and we are in the mist of it. Once inside the wall we criss-cross through small cobbled lanes and arrive at a dead end street.

The Lanes of Orvieto

The Lanes of Orvieto

Via Saracinelli, Michealangeli B&B, Orvieto

Via Saracinelli, Michelangeli B&B, Orvieto

The Door and Walls of Michealangeli B&B

The Door and Walls of Michelangeli B&B

This street is far from dead.  On the old building walls are intricate wooden wall covering designs.  They are beautiful.  Why are they here?  Who does all this woodworking?  Another Pinocchio and Geppetto?

Geppetto's At it Again!

Geppetto’s At it Again!

DSCN0665We ring the bell and a tall impeccably groomed Italian man greets us. He explains Francesca, his wife, is getting the children ready for the biggest festival of the year in Orvieto, and will greet us later. There is excitement in his voice as he tells us we do not want to miss the evening parade.  He leads us next door, opening an eight foot high double wooden door to our apartment, right next to his home. We are so pleasantly surprised when we are given the grand tour of the apartment we will be staying in for five days.  It is huge, but cozy.  It is like a country cottage, only in Italy! It is lovingly cared for.

Michealangeli B&B, Orvieto, italy

Michelangeli B&B, Orvieto, italy

The Dining Room at Michealangeli B&B

The Dining Room at Michelangeli B&B

The Kitchen at Michealangeli B&B

The Kitchen at Michelangeli B&B

The Spiral Stairway to Bedroom 1 at Michealangeli B&B

The Spiral Stairway to Bedroom 1 at Michelangeli B&B

The Main Bedroom of Michealangeli B&B

The Main Bedroom of Michelangeli B&B

Looking Down from the Bedroom Loft at Michealangeli B&B

Looking Down from the Bedroom Loft at Michelangeli B&B

We remark about the beautiful wooden furniture and he explains his family has been the furniture and cabinet makers in Orvieto for centuries and all the furniture in the apartment is hand made by them in a shop right down the street.  That explains the wood carvings outside the buildings, signs of the trade. We feel so fortunate to have picked this location and apartment, it is perfect. We hurriedly unload our belongings and following his instructions scurry out to the parade route.

The Streets of Orvieto

If you would like more information on Michelangeli B&B please contact:

Francesca at

Via Saracinelli 20, Orvieto, Italy, Tel: 0763-393862

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