We learned a few things about the celebration of the Feast of Corpus Christi in an earlier post, and now we turn to how Valencia has made the festival its own.
As mentioned before, the first official recognition of Corpus Christi was by order of Pope Urban IV in 1263. It wasn’t widely celebrated for the following half century, but in 1355 the Bishop of Valencia, Hugo de Fenollet, was involved in establishing a Corpus Christi procession here. (This was five or six years after the Black Death came through the region, so it’s likely that those who were left needed some cheering up.)
In the following years the route of the procession was set, and citizens commanded to clean the streets, decorate their houses, and throw aromatic herbs in honor of the eucharist. Over the centuries the procession has sometimes been suspended, as during the war between the Kingdoms of Valencia and Castile in the late 1360s. The most recent interruption of the pageantry was during the Spanish Civil War, 1931-1935. Sometimes celebrations took place in the parishes of the city, rather than at the Cathedral; sometimes festivities happened only inside the churches. I assume that there have been times when activities were on a very limited scale. But in 2018, there was a great deal to see.
Though the celebration spreads over four days, the liveliest happenings took place last Sunday. Having our own worship service to attend, we didn’t go to the opening Mass, but we were among the throng to see the invitation to gather extended by an elderly gentleman on a horse, known as the Capellá de les Roques (the language of Valencian is always uppermost during big festivals like this one). I say we saw it, because we certainly didn’t hear it, given the many noises competing for our attention. He was wearing a microphone, but it didn’t do us non-Valencian speakers any good.
Next we did our best to catch glimpses of the various folk dancers, including this group doing a sort of May pole dance (La Magrana) around a pole topped by a pomegranate which opens and closes.
There were girls dancing with arches of greenery (Els Arquets), boys with shepherd crooks (Els Pastorets), and several dances I don’t know the Valencian name for, like the one with ribbons (not tied to a pomegranate pole) shared between dancers , some turbaned youth battling with sabers, and boys wearing horses.
The most famous of the folk dances features the figure of a woman representing virtue (though the costume is traditionally worn by a man), who does symbolic battle with seven devils, representing the seven deadly sins. We had seen La Moma, Ms Virtue, in a couple of settings before:
So we were glad to finally see what she would look like in person:
The day also featured the large wooden carriages, called Roques, being pulled around by horses. As the events stretched from morning until night, and we have a limited tolerance for standing around in the sun, the pictures I’ll share are from other times during the celebration, since we were taking a breather during the actual procession.The Roques are of imposing size; these are mostly shots of details.
There are eleven of the Roques in total. The most recent was built in 2001; before that, one in 1995 and 1961, then two in the 1800s, one in 1674, then 1542, 1528, two in 1512, and one in 1511. Given the shake, rattle and roll that happens as they are drawn by horses over uneven street surfaces, it’s remarkable that they hold together as well as they do.
In addition to the Roques, there are statues of some interesting beasts, the origin and meaning of which I have yet to pin down.
There are the giants several meters tall, representing the taking of the gospel to people around the world:
And there are said to be 300 biblical figures in the final procession. Having sat through it, I wouldn’t be surprised. Many I recognized, but some I had to look up–I couldn’t remember the name of the woman who put the tent stake through the enemy’s head, for instance.
El Guapo and I tried to figure out the identify of the guy with the hand saw. Any guesses?
During the earlier festivities, each group of dancers was accompanied by musicians like these:
The procession also included some military troops goose-stepping, and many young girls in what I assume was first communion attire, as well as many young boys wearing sailor suits, which I’m still trying to figure out. I guess that could be said for a fair portion of what I saw, as a matter of fact.
The finale of the grand procession was the passing of the Monstrance, the largest in the world, holding the wafer of the eucharist. The structure was built using 600 kilos of silver (1322 pounds; at current prices worth about $320,000), and 8 kilos of gold (almost 18 pounds, worth about $330,000), as well as pearls, gems, etc. It was preceded by various officials swinging incense burners, and accompanied by a number of imposing men carrying machine guns. As the monstrance approached, the crowd around us got to their feet and began to murmur excitedly.
In case you’re interested in seeing more than just still images, I include here a video from the 2013 celebration, which will let you hear the call to gather at the beginning of the Cabalgata del Convite, and give you an idea of some of the dances. You’ll also hear the playing of the dolćaina, which might be considered an acquired taste. It’s memorable, certainly.
As with most things Valencian, I feel like I’ve learned a lot, seen a lot, and still am just getting started.
Images: festesdevalencia on facebook, moma picture by StellarD at Wikipedia, El Guapo, yours truly]