Though the public spectacle of Las Fallas in Valencia is on a scale that’s hard to match, there are other festivals that happen here, and slowly but surely I’m learning more about them. Thanks to a recent museum visit that alerted me to the coming celebration of Corpus Christi, I’ve had time to do my research. I can tell you what I’ve been able to find out, and this weekend I’ll do my best to get pictures while everything is going on.
Not being Catholic, I decided that before I learned about the Feast of Corpus Christi in Valencia, I needed to back up one level and get some understanding of the feast in general. Corpus Christi is Latin for Body of Christ, and the feast calls attention to the Catholic teaching of the real presence of the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist—also called transubstantiation. The doctrine goes back to the early centuries after the life of Christ, though the word transubstantiation doesn’t show up until about the 12th century.
The celebration of Corpus Christi began in the year 1263 with a bull (public decree) issued by Pope Urban IV, who set the feast for the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. This year it falls on May 31. The actual celebration appears to involve hearing Mass, then participating in a procession in which the sacramental wafer and wine are carried in something called a monstrance, a vessel for displaying some revered object. Afterward worshippers return to the church for the benediction of the blessed sacrament. For more on the feast’s origins and history, here’s a source.
In my next post I’ll describe what I know about the particulars of the celebration as it happens in Valencia. Before leaving the topic of Corpus Christi in general, here are a few things that drew my attention.
The first is that Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) wrote a hymn called “Pange Lingua Gloriosi Corporis Mysterium” that is often used in the celebration. You can listen to it here:
Next, Martin Luther (1483-1546) railed against the tradition, saying that to no festival was he more hostile than to this one.
Finally, if you have a chance to see a Corpus Christi celebration in Castrillo de Murcia (about 550 km from us here in Valencia), you can witness Baby Jumping, where men dressed as devils (el Colacho) jump over babies that are laid out on bedding along the procession route. Being jumped over in this way is said to “cleanse the babies of original sin, ensure them safe passage through life and guard against illness and evil spirits.” (Salto del Colacho)