On Sunday the 10th of June the Catholic Church celebrates la festa del Corpus Domini (Corpus Christi). The festival originates from the supposed miracle that took place in Bolsena, north of Rome, in the year 1263. It is said that a Bohemian priest, Pietro da Praga, was in crisis about his religious faith, and so he decided to make a pilgrimage to Rome. On his way back he made a stop in Bolsena, where he celebrated an early morning mass during which, al momento dell’elevazione (the moment when the priest consecrates the bread and the wine whilst repeating Jesus’ words from the Last Supper), blood fell from the holy wafer onto the corporale (the linen that collects any crumbs that fall from the holy wafer) and onto three paving stones near the altar. The priest asked for an audience with Pope Urbano IV who was staying in Orvieto for his summer holidays. The Pope immediately sent for the blood stained corporale to be brought to Orvieto and, having verified the miracle, he established the festival of the Corpus Domini.
This festival does not have a fixed date because it falls on the ninth Sunday after Pasqua (Easter) which in turn, following the Jewish tradition, falls on the first Sunday after the the first Spring full moon (che casino! what a mess!). During Corpus Domini, after high Mass, the Holy Wafer is traditionally paraded through the streets of most Italian towns to represent the historical procession from Bolsena to Orvieto. In Orvieto however, they stage a magnificent corteo storico (historical parade) with 400 hundred figuranti (character actors) dressed in Medieval costumes, all carefully reconstructed following rigid historical criteria: no Velcro, no zips, no press-studs on costumes, and so on.
When I was a child, a procession used to be held in my town too, with little girls dressed as angels, and little boys dressed as pages. One year during Corpus Domini, when I was probably about four or five years old, a friend of mine came up to me in the play ground and told me that the following Sunday she was going to be an angel. I interpreted this statement as an announcement that she would become an angel, a real one, and I felt really upset: “Perché lei sì ed io no? Lei non è più buona di me!” (Why her and not me? She’s no better than me!). So, all tearful, I went to my mother and told her that I too wanted to be an angel on Sunday. She was a bit surprised by my request because she knew that I didn’t usually like dressing up in public, but she agreed to help me.
Sunday arrived and I was really excited, expecting magic signs all around me, such as sweet music coming down from the sky, and sudden lightening bolts … but nothing unusual happened. After Mass, feeling a bit disconcerted, I followed my mother round to the canonica (rectory) where the nuns were getting the children ready for the procession, and I was given a nice long dark red dress to wear. Then a nun turned towards me with a big smile and presented me with a pair of … CARDBOARD wings to fix on my back with shoulder straps! I felt betrayed: “Ma quelle ali sono finte!” (But those wings are fake!), and I started crying, “Io voglio essere un vero angelo! Voglio andare in Paradiso!” (I want to be a real angel! I want to go to Heaven!).
Needless to say, I refused to take part in the procession. Instead I watched it holding onto my mother’s skirt, my eyes brimming with tears, and feeling like a fallen angel.