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  • Writer's pictureSu Guillory

The Age-Old Tradition of Corpus Domini in Calabria

One of the most beautiful things to experience on your trip to Calabria is a religious procession. Whether you know about it in advance or stumble upon people walking through the streets celebrating one saint or another, it's something you'll never forget.

The History of Corpus Domini

One such tradition is Corpus Domini. The feast of Corpus Domini, or Corpus Christi, has a rich history in Italy, deeply intertwined with the nation's Catholic traditions.

It goes back to 1264, and over the centuries, Corpus Domini has become a significant religious and cultural event across Italy, marked by elaborate processions, religious ceremonies, and public festivities.

The date changes each year, as it's 60 days after Easter, and celebrates the Eucharist as the body of Christ.

Corpus Domini in Calabria

In Calabria, celebrations vary. In some towns, like Reggio Calabria, the feast is celebrated with an infiorata. The infiorate are huge carpets of flowers with intricate designs, and they're truly a work of art.

In other towns, there's a more rustic tradition I'd like to share with you.

That's Not Laundry, That's Reverence

Walking through a small Calabrian town like Davoli on Corpus Domini, you might wonder why so many people are drying their bedspreads. In fact, the tradition of putting out bedspreads for Corpus Domini is an old one.

Once upon a time, the bedspread, which was often the most beautiful and valuable item in the home, was placed on the balcony on this feast day to honor and beautify the path of the Eucharistic procession, where the consecrated host, representing the body of Christ, is carried through the streets. By displaying their finest bedspreads, the community expresses their devotion and reverence for the sacrament. The tradition continues today in smaller towns.

Starting from the Beginning

Before the procession winds through the streets, the work for Corpus Domini begins early in the morning. Villagers flock to hillsides and the mountains to gather ginestra (broom) flowers to adorn the streets and altars.

Is it a coincidence that the ginestra is at the end of its blooming phase right when this feast day arrives? Just days after Corpus Domini, the flowers will disappear until next season.

In Davoli, families pluck the flowers directly off the plant and fill baskets of merry yellow, along with the occasional shot of color from a poppy or other bright wildflower. Others gather branches of the plants and flowers to be affixed to fences.

A few hours before the procession, the women of the town get to work. They create a festive atmosphere with the flowers and hang their finest bedspreads from balconies. Many create altars that house candles, more flowers, and perhaps a statue of Jesus.

The tradition fosters a sense of community, as neighbors work together to decorate their surroundings, sharing in the collective celebration of their faith.

The Procession Arrives

In the evening, after mass, a crowd gathers outside of the church. The small children are dressed like angels, and there's a buzz throughout the crowd.

The priest emerges from the church, covered by a canopy held up by four posts. He holds the Eucharist in what's called a monstrance as he and his entourage go from one altar to another, stopping to pray and sing at each. The crowd, swelling in size in the narrow streets, sings along.

Children toss flower petals in the street to make way for the procession. Some impish little ones even toss petals onto the head of the jolly priest!

The atmosphere is festive, yet reverent. It's a period of gathering together, seeing old friends, and marveling at the beauty of the procession.

Corpus Domini is just one of the many religious feast days that are so beautifully executed in Calabria. If you time your trip right, you could participate in one!

(Planning a trip to Calabria? We can help!)


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