Corpus Christi – Concept, origin, history and celebration

We explain what Corpus Christi is, what it commemorates and how it is celebrated in different places. Also, how was its origin and history.

In Corpus Christi, the body of Christ is represented with the sacred host.

What is Corpus Christi?

The festivity of Corpus Christi (“body of Christ” in Latin), also known as Corpus Domini (“body of the Lord”) and even as the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, is one of the greatest celebrations of the Christian calendar, in the one that commemorates the Eucharist on Holy Thursday, that is, the last supper that the prophet Jesus of Nazareth had before his crucifixion and, according to the Christian creed, his resurrection and ascent to the kingdom of heaven.

Corpus Christi is celebrated annually on the Thursday following the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity, that is, sixty days after Resurrection Sunday, with which Holy Week ends. In other words, Corpus Christi is always celebrated on the Thursday following the ninth full moon of spring in the northern hemisphere. However, some countries prefer to move it to the following Sunday so as not to alter the work calendar.

It is an official holiday in numerous Christian countries on the five continents, especially those with a Catholic tradition, but also in others that follow Orthodox or Protestant doctrine: from Spain and Latin America, Germany, Italy or Switzerland, to Australia, Philippines, Russia, Equatorial Guinea or the Seychelles Islands. In each region it can have its own and exclusive way of celebrating, always in line with the Christian religious imagery.

See also: Easter

What is celebrated in Corpus Christi?

Corpus Christi refers to the last supper of Jesus with his disciples.

As its name indicates, Corpus Christi is the celebration of the body (and blood) of Christ, which in the New Testament refers to the story of the Last Supper, where Jesus of Nazareth gave his disciples wine to drink, telling them that that was his blood, and he gave them bread to eat, telling them that that was his body. This event is commemorated in Christianity through the Eucharist, in which the faithful ingest the sacred host to also receive the body of Christ.

Corpus Christi, then, is a feast of veneration of the Eucharist, which originally served to publicly expand the faithful of Christianity and to promote the Christian cause in a context in which a large part of the European population still embraced paganism. That is why Corpus Christi celebrations tend to be showy, even ostentatious, far from the solemnity of Christianity.

Origin and history of Corpus Christi

The origin of Corpus Christi dates back to the 13th century, specifically to the year 1246, when it was held for the first time. Its creator was the Augustinian nun Santa Juliana de Liège or Santa Juliana de Cornillon (1193-1258), of Belgian origin, who dedicated a good part of her life to promoting the Catholic faith and sharing the mystical revelations that she had from an early age. .

The feast of Corpus Christi owes its importance to a mystical event that occurred according to religious tradition in Bolsena, Italy, during a mass in 1263. It is said that the priest broke the consecrated host in front of his parishioners and blood flowed from it, which impacted not only to the faithful present, but to the people of the surrounding regions, since the story circulated abundantly.

Hence, on September 8 of the following year, Pope Urban IV instituted the public celebration of the Eucharist in the official Christian calendar, through the bull Transiturus de hoc mundo. For its first official celebration, Saint Thomas Aquinas was commissioned to write the texts and prepare the office for the mass. From there come the hymns of Pangue lingua, Lauda Sion, Panes Angelicus or Adoro te devote, of his authorship.

However, when Urban IV died years later, the Corpus Christi festival was hardly practiced in some regions of France, Germany, Hungary and northern Italy. Thus, during the Council of Vienne in 1311, Pope Clement V dictated the general rules for its celebration inside and outside the churches, but the total establishment of the festival in the Christian world corresponded to Pope John XXII in 1317 and, above all, to Pope Nicholas V in 1447, who went out in person through the streets of Rome holding the consecrated host in his hands.

Examples of Corpus Christi Celebrations

In the town of Berga, Catalonia, mystical and religious figures are represented.

Corpus Christi celebrations can be very varied and picturesque, depending on where they are celebrated. Some examples are:

  • The Patum of Berga. With this name is known one of the largest celebrations of Corpus Christi in Spain, which takes place in the town of Berga, Catalonia, and has been declared by UNESCO as Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2005. Its origins date back to the nineteenth century. XIV and consists of the public representation of various mystical and religious figures, who dance in the streets to the rhythm of drums, amid fireworks and parades. This party begins on the eve of Corpus Christi, the previous Wednesday, and ends the following Sunday.
  • The procession of Corpus Christi in Toledo. Considered of religious and tourist interest in Spain and Europe, this celebration has been held since 1595 and rescues an important legacy of the Mozarabic liturgy, as well as poetic contributions from the great names of the medieval and baroque Spanish tradition. The celebration itself consists of a long procession carried out in two parts, during which the Custody of Toledo is carried, one of the greatest jewels of Catholicism, a 16th century goldsmith’s work made of silver and that took more than seven years in elaborating.
  • The celebration of Corpus Christi in Cusco. An important part of Cusco and Peruvian folklore, this celebration that begins on the eve of Corpus Christi Thursday began in the 16th century, with the arrival of the Spanish conquerors to the territory of the ancient Inca Tiwanaku. The celebration consists of taking the different patron saints of the city in procession, as a prelude to the procession of the custody of the cathedral of Cusco: a piece of gold and silver where the sacred host is exhibited. In the Plaza Mayor, the mass is sung by the archbishop and the parishioners commemorate later with dances and musical troupes.
  • Corpus Christi in La Orotava. The largest Corpus Christi celebration on the Canary Island of Tenerife takes place in the towns of La Orotava, La Laguna and Tacoronte. Traditional rugs with religious motifs are made there, using flower petals and inked volcanic sand brought from the Teide National Park. The largest of these carpets covers the entire Town Hall square and is accompanied by the Catholic procession. The popularity of this festivity dates back to 1847, when the first floral carpets were made.
  • The Dancing Devils of Corpus Christi. It is the largest Venezuelan tradition of Corpus Christi, carried out by brotherhoods or brotherhoods that celebrate the Eucharist through processions accompanied by music, whose members wear devil masks and brightly colored costumes, to perform dances and choreographies. There are 11 brotherhoods in the country, each one based in different cities such as Yare, Cata, Ocumare de la Costa or Tinaquillo, grouping more than 5,000 participants. This celebration was declared Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2012 by UNESCO.

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