The Corpus Christi procession in Valencia is unique in the world

Corpus Valencia. Pedro Molero

Religion and Culture

The procession of Corpus Christi, which celebrates and pays homage to the sacrament of the Eucharist, is the oldest procession in Valencia and, for many Valencians, the city’s most important

The Corpus Christi procession in Valencia goes back to 1355, but what makes it singular is that the original features of this celebration have been maintained ever since, for more than six and a half centuries.

One of its main characteristics, which makes it unique in the world, is that scenes of the Bible are represented in it, with extras that give life to about 300 characters of Christianity’s holy book, converting this procession into an urban and very visual Mediterranean biblical catechesis.

And the curious thing about this data is that, although the celebration is the sacrament of the Eucharist, an institution that the Catholic Church affixes to the Last Supper, the characters belong to the Old Testament: the first part of the Bible, in which events prior to the birth of Jesus are narrated.

According to tradition, this would be because, in this way, the political authorities sought to please the Valencian Jewish community, the financier in numerous occasions of much of the municipality’s coffers as with the very procession itself. Because this celebration has always been municipal: organised and sponsored by the Valencian Council. A city in which, after the constitution of the new Christian kingdom of Valencia founded by Jaime I in the thirteenth century, Christians, Jews and Muslims coexisted, not without difficulty, until the end of the fifteenth century.

Valencian origin of the fiesta

Although, as Valencia finds itself recovering from the reconquest, this festivity does not begin to be celebrated in the city of Valencia until the middle of the fourteenth century, the Corpus Christi festivity had already been instituted by Pope Urban IV in 1264.

What not even many Valencians know is that in the establishment of this festival influenced, in part, a miracle that occured in the Valencian town of Llutxent, about 15 kilometers away from Xàtiva.

According to the tradition, in 1239, Jaime I’s troops were finishing the conquest of the Moorish kingdom. They were forced to interrupt their mass celebration to confront a surprise attack. Upon victory they were amazed to discover that the consecrated forms for the communion were bloody.

This event, considered a Eucharistic miracle, came to Pope Urban IV who, impressed by this and another miracle in Orvieto (Italy), would decide from Rome to establish the celebration of Corpus Christi for the Universal Catholic Church.

From religious to secular theatre

The Valencia’s Corpus Christi procession, of marked religious character, cannot be understood without linking it to cultural facts.

The Corpus Christi festivity is traditionally celebrated on the Thursday following the 60th day after Easter Sunday. At present, in order not to coincide with the work calendar, the acts of this feast are held on the Sunday succeeding that Thursday, happening to be known by the “Corpus Christi Sunday”, which falls on June 18 this year 2017.

The “rocas” (carriages or carts, that the visitor will see passing before the procession) were mobile scenarios in which the religious scenes were represented. According to the French Hispanist Henri de Mérimée, a scholar of Valencian dramatic art, in Valencia the lay theatre descends from the Corpus Christi theatre. In short, when moving from the temples to the street, the theatre that was done inside the churches was incorporated into the Corpus Christi procession until becoming independent and a civil theatre.

In the Corpus Christi procession in Valencia, besides the parade of the “rocas” and the biblical characters, the tourist can also enjoy other features such as the dances. Among those we emphasise the one of the giants and big-heads or that of “La Moma y els Momos” where the Virtue or Moma (woman interpreted by a man) triumphs over the seven deadly sins (pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger and laziness).

Source: Baltasar Bueno Tárrega, journalist and writer.

Photos Diego Opazo & Pedro Molero