• jannipedersen

The Corpus Christi Festival

I promised to share a bit of background on what the Corpus Christi festival is, so here we go. Corpus Christi means the body of Christ, and is the Catholic celebration of transubstantiation, the transformation on Christ's body into the blood and bread served at communion, the Eucharist. It's origin dates to the Middle ages, around 12th Century, and it was brought to Latin America by the Spanish Colonialists. Here, it often merged with local traditions and celebrations. The festival most often includes a procession with the Eucharist in the central role, and an enactment of dances or plays symbolizing the victory of god (Jesus and the Christian God) over evil (that was initially often the Moors or the Turks)

Corpus Christi Process in North Carolina, 2005. Notice the Eucharist being carried by members of the clergy in a monstrance underneath a canopy.

Picture credit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corpus_Christi_(feast)

The Spanish used religious festivals, including Corpus Christi, to assert the (forced) conversion of indigenous people in the colonies as well as social and political hierarchies. Who walked where in the procession and who became involved in what plays and dances could have both practical and symbolic meaning. In preparing for this research project, I have enjoyed reading an excellent book on the Corpus Christi festival in Cuzco of Peru as the Spanish took over the Inca empire, Inka Bodies and the Body of Christ, by Carolyn Dean. What is fascinating in that story is how the Incas both resigned to Spanish dominance and at the same time resisted. A lacking comprehension, on the part of the Spanish of the significance of the dances and plays indigenous Andenas incorporated into Corpus made for an ambiguous festival. After a rebellion, the Spaniards enforced a more tight control of the festivals and dances to ensure non-Christian and subversive elements were not part of it. In Parita, the festival spreads over two extended weekends and includes a performance of Devil dances, symbolizing the fight between good and evil. This is the one time during the year that the Devil is actually permitted to enter the church. I cannot wait to witness how it takes place and what it means to the people of Parita. In the mean time, I'm in packing for early morning departure tomorrow. My pets are deeply concerned by the suitcase, they know it signals departure.

Dean, C. (1999). Inka Bodies and the Body of Christ: Corpus Christi in Colinial Cuzco, Peru. Duke University Press.

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