Festa del Corpus Domini, May 2013
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.
Hanging 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!
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.
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.
Ristorante Maurizio: Via Duomo 76, Orvieto, Italy