What happens to all those flowers in a Corpus Christi procession?

There is a custom in certain traditionally Catholic countries of southern Europe and Latin America of constructing huge flower mats on streets for the Corpus Christi procession to pass over.

Flower mat Galicia
Flower mat Galicia

A friend of mine who lives in Spain sent me some pictures of how these were being assembled in his town. There were giant white outlines drawn on the streets, and volunteers worked for hours filling them with the proper color flower petals to make the eye-catching designs come to life.

Flower mat Brazil
Flower mat Brazil

Seeing that they were armed simply with boxes of colored petals, I asked, in amazement, do they not affix them to the ground in any way? Couldn’t a strong wind or sudden rainstorm simply scatter them? Here is his answer:

Yes. But we’re in premodern territory with these customs, after all, when people took being at the mercy of the elements for granted! (And all this will be completely scattered as the large procession goes over them this evening.) 
The idea of festival excess is indeed taken to a fabulous degree in the assembling of these floral designs that pass away after only a day. But people love this. And they do it with pride, every year.
Speaking of wind, the surprise intervention of natural elements may in fact add to the wonder of the occasion.
Flower blossoms stirred up by the wind (Spain)
Flower blossoms stirred up by the wind (Spain)
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12 comments

  1. What a beautiful custom!
    I’m a little unclear though… What is this “Corpus Christi procession” of which you speak?
    Just kidding.

    The impermanence points to the whole purpose of the flowers though: To prepare the way of the Lord. Once He has been carried along the path, the flowers have achieved their sole purpose, and they can scatter naturally.

    #I’mEnvious

  2. King of Kings! There is nothing too great or too glorious to honour and adore Thee.
    Having spent six years in Sevilla, Toledo, Malaga, Santiago de Compostela
    and many other of the cities and villages of Spain and experienced the
    generosity and pride of her people there is nothing to compare it with.
    We need these expressions of joy and reverence. Even when blowing in the wind they are the work of His creation.

  3. For an English tradition at Arundel Cathedral going back at least a century, see https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=arundel+cathedral+corpus+christi+carpet+of+flowers+photos&client=firefox-b&tbm=isch&imgil=455xyOS2t_fAFM%253A%253BH2IjJlEejJLgyM%253Bhttp%25253A%25252F%25252Fwww.alamy.com%25252Fstock-photo-a-carpet-of-flowers-in-arundel-cathedral-laid-out-for-the-annual-festival-80209019.html&source=iu&pf=m&fir=455xyOS2t_fAFM%253A%252CH2IjJlEejJLgyM%252C_&usg=__Q6c8WtgueZfHwGGWWzhocuhSm0A%3D&biw=1787&bih=883&ved=0ahUKEwiIg8qy2szUAhUkAcAKHYg9B2oQyjcINQ&ei=2zpJWcipCaSCgAaI-5zQBg#imgrc=455xyOS2t_fAFM:

    The carpet is viewed by thousands of tourists in the days preceding Corpus Christi. At the end of the Corpus Christi Mass, the bishop alone treads along the carpet down the centre aisle of the nave (the remainder of the procession using the side aisles) bearing one of the heaviest monstrances in the country. The procession exits the cathedral and proceeds to Arundel Castle (over half a mile) for Benediction. The procession then returns to the cathedral, the bishop being once again the only one to tread the carpet, for a second Benediction. Then the entire exit procession treads the carpet. Almost before they have passed, souvenir-hunters start to take the flowers as souvenirs, and within just a few minutes the entire nave is bare apart from some greenery and chalk markings on the floor.

    The logistics of organizing the distribution of Communion with the central aisle out of action mean, alas, that on this celebration of the Body and Blood of Christ Communion at this Mass is distributed under the form of bread alone. (It could be done under both kinds with a little imagination, but the will is not there to try it.)

  4. Thank you for the wonderful images and article…eschatological flower petals! (And Thanks to Paul Inwood for the connection to Arundal)

  5. I’ve never seen such complete photos of these displays. Thanks. One of the most literal, unpoetic, cud-chewing people I know saw this in one of the Central American countries — Guatemala, I think — and got so enthused he wanted to bring the custom to Milwaukee. Never happened, of course, but I can see how he got the impulse.

  6. For what it’s worth, I grew up in an overwhelmingly Protestant context in (then) West Germany, and the women of my parish always made a flower carpet in front of our sanctuary for Corpus Christi. People brought the riches of their summer gardens, a day in advance, for this flower carpet, and you were proud to contribute the petals from your garden. Did any one ever worry that they only lasted a day? No, of course not; many summer flowers don’t last that long anyway. And for them to grace the Corpus Christi procession was very special indeed. My childhood memory retains that specific Corpus Christi moment when the priest stepped out onto that flower carpet, holding the monstrance high — while there are millions of other important liturgical moments in my life of which I simply have no recollection (e.g., my confirmation).

    1. @Teresa Berger:
      A snip from “Around The Year with The Trapp Family” about Corpus Christi in Austria:

      “The day before, the big boys of the village cut young trees in the woods,
      usually birch, and plant them on either side of the road along which the
      priest will carry the Blessed Sacrament. . . .

      The big girls are making garlands by the yards which will span the
      street. All windows will be decorated, houses and families vying with
      each other the best carpets, flanked by candles and flowers, are hung out
      the windows and statues and holy paintings are exhibited on them. Early
      in the morning freshly cut grass is strewn thickly on the road. Four
      times the procession will come to a halt, the priest will sing solemnly
      the beginning of one of the four Gospels and each time there will be
      Solemn Benediction. At those four spots altars are erected and decorated
      with trees and greenery and a profusion of flowers and candles. A great
      deal of love and care and time goes into these preparations.

      Then comes the great day. The church choir gives its best at the Solemn
      High Mass and all the people attend from the mayor to the smallest child,
      for everybody wants to accompany Our Lord on His triumphal way. The
      procession is headed by an altar boy carrying a crucifix, followed by all
      the school children–the girls in white, their veils held in place by
      wreaths of flowers, looking for all the world like so many little brides;
      the boys wearing a wreath of flowers on their left upper arm over their
      Sunday-best, just like “best men.” Then come the different
      confraternities with their banners and costumes. . . . They are all like the heralds of the great King Who is following now under the richly embroidered baldachin carried by the four most important men of the community. The pastor carries the monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament. Two little girls are throwing flower petals out of baskets directly at the feet of Our Lord. Little altar boys alternate in ringing silver bells and swinging the censer from which rise billowing clouds, enveloping the Sanctissimum. On the right
      and on the left are marching soldiers carrying guns as if on parade.
      Behind the Blessed Sacrament follows the church choir, then a detachment
      of firemen, the war veterans in uniforms, and the rest of the community.
      At the very end of the procession comes the brass band playing hymns
      while everybody joins in the singing. The highlights for everybody, young
      and old, are the moments of benediction with the priest raising the
      monstrance for all to see and the soldiers lifting their guns and
      shooting their salute, while from the outskirts cannons resound with a
      thundering echo.”

    1. @Rita Ferrone:
      Ah, France. The grand manner. Which makes me think of how, in the early modern era, the theatrics of church may have been overshadowed by the theatrics of state (sure, the pre-modern era certainly had theatrics of state, but, a keener sense of proportionality perhaps?). This short scene from the film, Vatel, based on an episode from the life of François Vatel in 1671, when, as maître d’hôtel Louis II, Prince de Bourbon-Condé, he oversaw grand festivities for Louis XIV:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZvabtcoM5c

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