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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Corpus Christi - Double-Bodied Rite

Was Easter fairly flowerless? Christians get a second crack at sacred celebration during Corpus Christi, most holy because the world’s in bloom.

imageCorpus Christi

floral carpet, 1999

Arundel Cathedral

Photo: Wellsprings of Pigrimage

Which came first, faith or flowers?

With apologies to theologians everywhere, we propose that flowers kicked off the propensity for believing. They’re a miracle for which human beings deserve no credit – or very little, even in our age of botanical tinkering. But their splendor seems to demand a human response, something drastic as prayer, as parades. Is it just coincidental that the highest holy days – Passover, Easter, the Norooz—occur in the springtime, when there were blossoms first to inspire devotion and ever after to augment it, with ornamentation?

By this logic, it makes sense that in parts of Europe where Easter itself can be a trifle chilly and flowerless, another religious celebration would come along closer to peak bloomtime.

Say, just now.  We have the Feast of Corpus Christi. You might call it a double-decker holy day since it honors the Eucharist – a ritual for a sacrament.

It began in 13th century France “following a vision by three nuns in Liege.” A vision inspired by flowers? We don’t know, but we do know that the custom spread in many floral forms across the Christian world. We’ve written here before about the magnificent floral carpets and processions in Genzano, Italy, on Corpus Christi. We now learn that the Duke of Norfolk witnessed one of these Italian festivals and brought the flower custom back to England.

At the Cathedral in Arundel, there have been floral carpets since 1877.  “In the early days, the flowers were grown and laid by workers from the Dukes of Norfolk’s nearby estate.” Today, the carpet making involves many members of the congregation; it appears that most of the blooms aren’t homegrown but imported and florist-supplied.


The 2008 Floral Carpet, Arundel Cathedral

honoring the rosary and Our Lady of Lourdes

Photo: Little Hampton Gazette

Corpus Christi, always the Thursday following Trinity Sunday, fell this year on May 23. Arundel’s floral carpet was laid two days in advance, a display for pagans, Christians, and anybody else to admire. On Corpus Christi itself there was, as each year, a special Mass, following which “the Sacrament is carried out along the Carpet of Flowers – this is the reason that the carpet is laid in the first place. Then a procession forms up with various religious groups who escort the Eucharist along the road to the castle” for a prayer of benediction, and back to the cathedral.


Spread the Word (through flowers as well as the Gospel)

the 2007 Corpus Christi carpet at Arundel Cathedral

Photo: Arundel Cathedral

There’s a wonderful video of parishioners making last year’s carpet. And what struck us was not only the beauty of the floral custom but the numbers of people who come together to bring it about. As much, or more, than sacred bread, isn’t this purposeful collaboration what’s meant by “the Body of Christ” ?

Next year this time, we hope to be in Poland for Boze Cialo—another spring, a slightly different tradition, but the same embodiment of inspiration. With flowers.

Posted by Julie on 05/24 at 01:32 PM
Culture & SocietyReligious RitualsPermalink