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The Splendor of the Corpus Christi Procession in Spain

Spain is blessed with a deep Catholic soul. Yes, despite the gradual apostasy of Western civilization. Yes, even despite the unhappy post–Vatican II “reforms.” And yes, despite even the ever accelerating and ever deepening quagmire in which the Church finds herself of late.

The Archdioceses of Toledo (Castilla–La Mancha) and Valencia are especially renowned in their Corpus Christi festivities, most notably the monstrances used in the most solemn processions in the streets of these cities.

Historically, the feast of Corpus Christi in Valencia, southeastern Mediterranean coast of Spain, has been and is considered to be, in the local Valencian language, the “Festa Grossa” (Great Festivity) of the city, from the last third of the 14th century until the end of the 19th century, which celebrates the feast in splendor and solemnity.

During this period, the fame and renown of Valencia, particularly the feast of Corpus Christi, quickly spread both inside and outside our borders. It was in the Year of Our Lord 1263 when Pope Urban IV instituted the Feast of Corpus Christi by publishing the bull “Transiturus Hoc Mundo,” extending it throughout Christendom. Its celebration was fixed on the first Thursday after the Octave of Pentecost, which is why it does not have a fixed date and varies between 21 May and 24 June (in some local Novus Ordo calendars, it is commemorated the following Sunday), celebrating a solemn procession from that moment, at the sound of cloistered bells rung within the churches.

This papal bull was later confirmed by Pope Clement V at the General Council of Vienne in 1311 and by Pope John XXII in 1317. With this, the feast of Corpus Christi became, along with Easter and Christmas, the third of the great liturgical events of the year.

To celebrate the feast, the then-bishop of Valencia (1348–1356), Hugo de Fenollet, on 4 June 1355 promoted, according to the Cathedral Chapter and the city authorities, the creation of a procession that traveled the streets of the city, in which the clergy and religious and all the population of the city would take part, starting at the cathedral.

It is good to know that during his tenure in Valencia, Bishop Hugo de Fenollet baptized in the Church of St. Stephen on 23 January 1350 the son of Guillem Ferrer, who would later become St. Vincent Ferrer. He also founded the main school of singing (1351), which was possibly the first musical conservatory created in Valencia.

Before this festivity, the neighborhood’s residents were asked to clean the streets where the procession was going to pass, decorate their houses, and throw rose petals and aromatic herbs as a tribute to the Blessed Sacrament.

This procession as such lasted only one year, because in 1356, Bishop Hugo de Fenollet died, and under the war threats of Pedro, King of Castile, it was decided that the procession should be suspended, with the agreement that the festival would be celebrated, alternatively, in a parish of the city.

In 1372, under Cardinal Jaime de Aragón, bishop of the diocese, grandson of King Jaime II and cousin of Pedro “the Ceremonious,” the festivity resurfaced again, taking a boom and solemnity, adding music to the feast (with instruments of the time) as well as the dances, part of which still survives today. They also joined the numerous medieval guilds that existed, with their flowing flags and banners, and with members of each guild carrying an eight-ounce candle.

Such was the splendor of the procession that in the year 1401, Blanca of Aragón repeated it. King Martín “the Humane” and Queen Juana of Sicily came to witness it, and later, in 1414, during the coronation of the King of Aragón, Fernando of Antequera, wished that it be represented in Zaragoza, and in 1415, even Pope Gregory XII attended. In 1427, it was requested by King Alfonso “the Magnanimous,” in 1466 taking place in the presence of King Juan II of Aragón, and in 1481 — some eleven years before the taking of the last Moorish bastion in Granada, thus ending in 1492 the nearly eight-century-long Reconquista — the procession was celebrated in the presence of Their Catholic Majesties, Isabel I of Castile, “Mother of the Spanish Americas,” and Fernando II of Aragón.

In 1501, the procession took place in the presence of Juana of Naples, and in 1528 before the Spanish-Habsburg Carlos I (grandson of Isabel and Fernando), king of Spain, who also ruled as holy Roman emperor Carlos V. In 1585, nearly fourteen years after his half-brother, Don Juan de Austria, led the Christian fleet at the Battle of Lepanto, the Corpus Christi procession took place before His Catholic Majesty, King Philip II, and in 1612 before Philip III, on the occasion of his royal wedding.

The Traditional Eucharistic procession began its celebration in the morning of Corpus Christi Thursday, but from 1506 on, it was decided that it take place in the afternoon. The last Spanish-Habsburg king, Carlos II, decreed in 1677 that the procession take place again in the morning.

In 1815, the Prince of Angoulême assisted, as did Bourbon king Fernando VII in 1827. After his death in 1833, the Carlist Wars ravaged Spain due to a dynastic dispute of an heir: Fernando VII’s brother, who would have reigned as Carlos V of Spain, instead was supplanted by Fernando’s daughter, Spanish Queen Isabel II, who assisted at the procession with her son, the future Alfonso XII, in 1858. Alfonso XIII assisted in 1888 and again in 1893 with the celebration of the First National Eucharistic Congress.

The presence of guilds in the procession was regular until 1835. But after the anti-Catholic Disentailment of Mendizábal in 1836, the suppression of many religious orders that used to participate in the feasts of Corpus Christi opened the door to a gradual decline. Still, this emptiness of guilds and religious communities was filled by Catholic charitable institutions such as the School of Orphans of St. Vincent Ferrer, the House of Beneficence, and the Shelter of St. John the Baptist.

After the brutal Spanish Civil War (1931–1939) — Satan’s cruel revenge against Spain’s deep Catholic soul and worldwide missionary history — the pro-Franco side, not taking into sufficient consideration local Valencian customs and traditions, accented only the national religious dimension of the Corpus Christi feast. In the 1960s, some Valencians restored the more ample local cultural traditions that were present in the beginnings of the procession of Corpus Christi, with all its original splendor.

¡Adorado sea el Santísimo Sacramento del Altar! ¡Viva Jesús Sacramentado!

Adoremus in æternum Sanctissimum Sacramentum!

Featured image: Guida Valencia via YouTube.

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