Celebrating the Fest of Corpus Christi in Poland

The Latin term Corpus Christi means “body of Christ,” in reference to the bread administered by priests during holy communion. Though communion is held every Sunday during mass throughout the year, a special day to celebrate the taking of communion was instituted on the basis of visions reportedly seen by Saint Julianne in the Belgian town of Liege in 1247. The first celebrations of Corpus Christi on Polish soil took place in 1320.

 

The date of Corpus Christi is based on Easter, being set on the Thursday of the ninth week following Easter Sunday (60 days after Easter). In Poland, many people take off not only Corpus Christi but also the following Friday, to create a festive four-day weekend.

 

Corpus Christi is one of the five days of the year on which Catholic bishops are not to be away from their dioceses unless absolutely unavoidable. It is day on which special masses are held in honour of the Eucharist. However, the processions immediately after mass are the real centre of attention. Devotees dressed in traditional Polish garb, varying region by region, march through the streets holding up banners. The priest holds high a canopy-covered Eucharist, and children throw flowers in the priest’s path as he walks along. At four different altars along the way, the procession stops to allow the crowds to sing hymns and say prayers. Finally, the procession returns to the church building, where the priest pronounces a blessing upon the Eucharist.

 

Some Poles will decorate their homes for Corpus Christi, putting religious pictures or flower garlands in their windows. Streets along which a procession is to pass are often lined with flowers and other decorations, and in large cities, each church will have its own procession and at different times of day. Some believe that Jesus walks on the flowers strewn on the streets, and some even tear of twigs adorning the street altars to bring themselves “good luck”.

 

 

Flower carpets

In Poland, Corpus Christi is celebrated in a particularly ceremonious setting. The highlight of the celebrations is the procession. In front of a priest, carrying a monstrance, little girls, dressed in white throw flower petals along the whole procession route. This colourful procession stops by four altars adorned with flowers, which are set in places that are important for a given community - by crosses or shrines. On this day, it is worth going to Spycimierz, a small village in Central Poland. For two hundred years now, its inhabitants have been celebrating Corpus Christi by way of arranging a flower carpet of religious subject-matter along the procession route. This meticulous composition is two kilometres long and two metres wide!

 

 

Corpus Christi in other countries

 

In commemoration of the Last Supper on the day before Jesus’ crucifixion, many Christians around the world receive Communion on this day. In some countries the consecrated bread (or host) is paraded throughout the streets. Priests carry the bread in a monstrance, which is a type of vessel in which the consecrated host is exposed.

 

In Spain and Provence the processions can be elaborate, featuring saints and characters from the Bible, following a path decorated with wreaths and flowers.

 

In Portugal the feast is known as Dia de Corpo de Deus and has been one of the major religious observances both on the mainland and in the Azores since medieval times. In the city of Ponta Delgada, in the Azores, the people make a flower-petal carpet almost three quarters of a mile in length. A procession of high-ranking clergy and red-robed priests who are followed by a group of first communicants (those who will receive communion for the first time), pass over this carpet. The climax of the ceremony comes when the bishop raises the silver monstrance and exposes the Blessed Sacrament, the “body of Christ”.

 

In Germany Corpus Christi is celebrated with colourful processions where the sacrament and other holy symbols are carried throughout the villages. Small-town streets are decorated with flowers and greenery. Children dressed in white wear wreaths of flowers and accompany women in regional costume and local clergy. Sometimes people display pictures of Jesus Christ and spread carpets in front of their houses to honour the day. Some processions, for example in the region of Bavaria, are held on lakes rather than on the streets, with flower-decked boats carrying members of the procession and worshippers across the waters.

 

In Switzerland this festival is usually observed with elaborate processions of clergy in their best robes, people in regional costumes, and soldiers in historic uniforms. The priest who leads the procession often walks on a carpet of flowers. In some areas it is customary to throw the church doors open and to decorate the altar and aisles with garlands and greens.

 

In Mexico religious processions are common on this day, as is the reposiar, a small shrine or altar set up along the procession’s path, covered with a lace trimmed altar cloth and decorated with candles, flowers and garlands. In some parts of Mexico Corpus Christi is observed with symbolic battles between the Moors and the Christians, particularly in the Sierras of Puebla and Veracruz. Another spectacle that takes place on this day is the Danza de los Voladores, or Flying Pole Dance. The dance involves five men, each representing the five elements of the indigenous world, on a tall pole. One of the men plays a musical instrument at the top of the pole while the remaining four descend the pole with a rope tied by one of their feet. The rope unwraps itself 13 times for each of the four flyers, symbolizing the 52 weeks of the year.

 

 

 

14 June 2017
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