Thursday, May 29, 2008

Corpus Domini in Orvieto, 2008

Catholic Italy, for all her apathy, has nonetheless preserved the strong civic character of many of her seasonal liturgical celebrations, with so many of them deeply embedded in the geography and culture, sacred and secular, of her cities and countryside. Nowhere is this more evident than in Orvieto, an Umbrian hill-town perched on the edge of a sheer tufa outcrop.

Orvieto's churches with a strong claim on the feast of Corpus Christi. The cathedral houses the miraculous Corporal of Bolsena, with its rust-red stains of holy blood--connected in legend, if not fact, with the establishment of the celebration--and St. Thomas Aquinas resided in the city while writing the hymns for the feast. The town's old Dominican church, now sadly reduced to its transepts, chancel and crossing by a Mussolini-era urban renewal project, nonetheless still houses a crucifix that spoke to St. Thomas.

Both pieces of local history play significant roles in the mixed religio-civil ceremonies of Corpus Domini--the local equivalent of Corpus Christi, and the name by which it is known in Rome itself. An enormous tapestry carried in procession (below) depicts the miracle of the talking crucifix, while the famed reliquary itself is brought out on a feretory beneath a splendid six-pole canopy (above). Note one of the clerics holding up the sedia appears to be wearing Greek vestments.

An interesting local custom: I am told that the reliquary of the Corporal also serves as a monstrance, and served as the monstrance in this particular procession, which also explains its presence beneath the vast canopy. If one looks carefully at the reliquary, one will see a white disk above the compartment for the Corporal, which is the Host. I am informed this was the first time in 80 years the reliquary-monstrance was carried in procession. At the end of the procession, the Host was taken out of the reliquary-monstrance and placed into a more conventional monstrance for Benediction on the Cathedral steps.

More photos of this remarkable ritual can be found here.

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