The Feast of Corpus Christi: Religion & Mythology

Corpus Christi is a Catholic feast commemorating the body of Christ in the Eucharist and has been celebrated in Valencia since 1236, although it wasn’t until 1355 when the procession element came about. It was once considered the Great Feast of Valencia but in recent times it has been eclipsed by the popularity of Fallas and unfortunately it is no longer a public holiday in Valencia.

It may be a religious celebration centered on the body of Christ but it also includes many non-religious elements that may seem out of place. Think dragons, gigantic turtles, medieval dancing and a man dressed as a woman in a mask…odd, right?

To help you understand what the hell is going on, I’m going to break it down into the following main elements: Cabalgata del Convite (Invitation Parade), Paso de las Rocas (Rock Parade) & Procesión (Eucharistic Procession).

CABALGATA DEL CONVITE (INVITATION PARADE)

An invitation is extended to everyone by a priest mounted on a horse and dressed in a black cape much like Zorro sans the mask. The parade involves many medieval and baroque dances led by different groups. The most famous is La Moma i els Momos dating from 1459 but there are plenty others. I’ll explain a few of them because there are too many to explain:

La Moma i els Momos: La Moma is a man dressed as a woman in white with his/her face covered and the momos are men dressed in yellow and black suits with a black mask and hat representing a dragon. The momos representing the seven deadly sins dance around La Moma representing virtue and at the end the seven deadly sins are defeated by virtue.

Gegants i Nanos: This is a deeply rooted tradition that is celebrated all over Spain although it is known as Gigantes and Cabezudos in most places. The Gegants (Giants) are dressed within a tall frame and a paper mache head representing the 4 continents (Europe, Asia, Africa & America) coming together to celebrate the body of Christ. N.B. The main photo of my blog features the giants dressed in typical Valencian clothing. The Nanos, on the other hand, are people with an oversized paper mache head placed on top of their own heads. The Gigantes and Cabezudos parade the streets and dance to traditional Valencian music.

Els Cavallets: This dance that is thought to be from 1615 features young boys dressed in Moorish clothing and inside a cardboard horse with drapes to hide their feet.

La Magrana: This is similar to a Maypole dance but in this case the pole is topped with a pomegranate, a symbol important to Judaism. The dancers, representing Jews, interweave multicoloured ribbons around the pole and at the end of the dance the Jews pay homage to the body of christ.

La Degollà or Poalà: This is a prank involving a group of men that symbolise the supporters of Herod’s massacre of the innocents. On Calle Cabillers and Calle de las Avellanas there are rows of hanging buckets of water which are tipped over them down below on these streets. CorpusChristi1PASO DE LAS ROCAS (ROCK PARADE)

The origin of the name Rocas (Rocks) is unknown, they surely don’t look like rocks. They are actually horse-drawn carriages that are decorated with different biblical stories and saints. These “rocks” are unique to Valencia and the oldest ones date from the 14th Century. There are currently 11 rocks which are paraded during Corpus Christi:

Roca de Plutón (Pluto Rock): Dating from 1511, this rock is known locally as La Diablera (The Devil) because it has many devil faces carved into its base. It also names the seven deadly sins.

Roca de San Miguel (Saint Michael Rock): Dating from either 1528 or 1535, this rock represents Saint Michael the Archangel, custodian of heaven. At the back of the carriage there is also a representation of Jupiter, the Roman God of the sky.

Roca de la Fe (Faith Rock): Dating from either 1512 or 1542, this rock with a blindfolded statue holding a cup of the blood of Christ represents blind faith.

Roca de San Vicente Ferrer (Saint Vincent Ferrer Rock): Dating from 1512, this rock was originally dedicated to Saint Vincent the Martyr but it 1665 it was changed to Saint Vincent Ferrer. There is a scene of Samson and the lion which represents the strength and power of this saint.

Roca de la Purísima (Immaculate Conception Rock): Dating from 1542, this rock also features Saint Helen with a cross and Judith with the severed head of Holofernes after she had defeated him in an act of bravery and faith.

Roca de la Santísima Trinidad (Holy Trinity Rock): Dating from 1674, this rock also features Adam and Eve at the time of the expulsion from Eden. CorpusChristi2Roca Valencia (Valencia Rock): This rock was built in 1855 to mark the 4th anniversary of the canonization of Saint Vincent Ferrer. When Spain was a republic it was altered in 1869 and a Phrygian cap (also known as a liberty cap) was added along with the republican flag. These elements have since been removed.

Roca La Fama (Fama Rock): Built in 1899, the rock features a statue of Fama, the personification of fame and renown in Greek/Roman mythology, blowing a trumpet for the glory of Valencia and its people. 

Roca del Patriarca (Patriarch Rock): This rock was built in 1961 to mark the anniversary of the canonization of Saint Juan de Ribera (also known as the Patriarch), founder of the Royal Seminary School of Corpus Christi. It also features a carving of a patriarch’s “dragon” which hangs in this seminary. This “dragon” is actually a caiman that was brought from Peru in 1606.

Roca de la Virgen de los Desamparados (Our Lady of the Forsaken Rock): This rock was built in 1995 to mark the 5th anniversary of the dedication of the patroness of Valencia, Our Lady of the Forsaken, by Ferdinand II.

Roca del Santo Cáliz (Holy Grail Rock): Built in 2001, this rock celebrates the holy grail that is kept in the Cathedral of Valencia. It is the only holy grail claim that has been authenticated by the Vatican. CorpusChristi3See these rocks in action here

Along with these “rocks” there are also other elements which may seem a bit random. These include:

La Cuca Fera (The Evil Turtle): A large turtle which represents the demon that Saint Margaret tamed. This is my personal favourite because it’s just so bloody weird and I like weird.

La Tarasca (Tarasque): The Tarasque was a legendary monster who wreaked havoc in Provence (France) until it was tamed by Saint Martha. The representation of the Tarasque in Valencia is of a monster with the body of a turtle, tail of a scorpion, head of a lion and 6 legs. Also wonderfully weird!

Drac de Sant Jordi (The Dragon of Saint George): This one I’m sure most people are more familiar with and is pretty self-explanatory; why it’s included in the parade is another story.

Aguilas de Patmos (Patmos Eagles): There are three in total but the largest one represents Saint John the Evangelist.

Gigante San Cristobal (Giant Saint Christopher): A very tall statue of Saint Christopher carrying baby Jesus on his shoulder. CorpusChristi4PROCESIÓN (EUCHARISTIC PROCESSION)

The procession is the culmination of the Corpus Christi celebration when the Eucharist (the body of Christ) is carried in a richly adorned monstrance. It is considered the largest monstrance in the world and is made of 600 kilos of silver and 8 kilos of gold. Before the eucharist arrives, people dressed up as different biblical characters and stories parade through the streets. When the eucharist finally arrives, it is showered with hundreds of rose petals thrown from most of the balconies along its route. My favourite spot to watch it is at Plaza del Tossal.  CorpusChristi5

If you are not in Valencia during Corpus Christi you can visit the newly refurbished Corpus Christi Museum located at the Casa de las Rocas on Calle de las Rocas, 3.

Click here for the Corpus Christi Programme

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