I walk down the cobblestone hill through crushed rose petals tossed at me by sweet young girls in flowing white robes – their hair festooned with crowns of flowers. Birds are singing and the cadence of soles on pavement stirs me. Instinctively, my inner muse comes to life and I begin to move my arms in the fluid style of Isadora Duncan or Ruth St. Denis. POP – POP POP- ZZZEEEEE – I hear the pop and feedback of the sound system and then the rhythmic reading of Mons. Giusseppe Rosario Girardi, the Pontelandolfo parish priest. Whoops, I remember where I am – processing to celebrate Corpus Domini (Corpus Christi) and I start behaving like the good woman I am.
To celebrate Corpus Domini the parish of San Salvatore in Pontelandolfo (Arcidiocesi di Benevento) and many parishes across Italy had a mass on June 2nd followed by a procession. My cousin called and suggested I come to mass and participate in the procession. I didn’t know what to expect. The last Pontelandolfo procession I walked in women were barefooted – silly me not understanding enough Italian at the time thought they were barefoot to protect their expensive shoes from the harsh cobblestone streets – not reliving the pain of Christ. My Italian has improved a lot since then but I still wasn’t sure what I was in for.
The past week I went to mass in this same Baroque style building and the church wasn’t full. Of course, folks do have multiple masses at three different churches to choose from, so it is difficult to assess the strength of the Catholic Church The Corpus Domini mass was held in the church in which my grandmother was married. It was first built before 1500 (Romanesque) and then destroyed totally in an earthquake in 1688 and up and running ten years later. Inside, the church is divided into three naves with incredible paintings – but we’ll save the church/art tour for another post. I love going to the church and imagining nonna on her wedding day or holding her children at the baptismal font. I can feel the presence of my history in these stone walls and sense the eyes of my family looking at the incredible art. Yeah, yeah, I am rambling.
Back to this particular mass – it was packed. There was barely standing room. A group of young girls sat in the front wearing white robes and garlands of white flowers in their hair. At first I thought the boys I saw enter in white robes were alter boys but there were too many of them. I found out later that the children who had their first communion either one or two weeks earlier always get to lead this procession. The sounds of the service surrounded me. The choir, accompanied by guitar, overwhelmed the naves and primary space with sweet music. The priest didn’t have such success with the microphone system which tweaked with feedback and growled irregularly. However, everyone participated verbally in the mass – this really surprised me. Even the children maintained a sense of decorum. I hadn’t a clue as to what was being said but the magic of every voice – without the aid of a missal – responding and singing was chilling. During those brief periods when I attend church, everyone clutches a book and reads along. One of the young women told me that even as children they didn’t look at a book to learn responses. Little kids actually listened in church and mimicked their parents to learn the responses, prayers and creeds.
When the mass was over, I hung back to take a picture of the alter to show you. The little guys in white were all lined up holding candles and also waiting for the space to clear. I didn’t know how the procession worked and – well oops – my presence may have gotten them in a bit of trouble over a missed cue. As I quietly went to the front of the church – to the nave on the left and lit a candle for my nonna – I heard of chorus of sweet young voices say “hello, hello”. I turned and with big smiles and candles waving, six charming elementary students that I had been a guest English teacher too were happily demonstrating their vebal prowess. A quick rebuke from an elder and they stopped smiling and started down the aisle. I snapped my picture and also headed for the front of the church.
I’m guessing there were well over two hundred people waiting to walk in the procession.
Six men carried a golden canopy out of the church and stood poised on the church steps. Under canopy is a gilded cup holding the host. The beautiful young girls stood in two parallel lines, holding baskets full of flower petals. Young members of the church held up the portable speakers and microphones. One young woman started reading and the priest slowly came down the steps. The young girls tossed flower petals on the ground. The priest walked through and the congregation followed.
Little alters are permanently placed around the village.
As we all walked up and down the hills of the town, the readings were broadcast through portable speakers and everyone was contemplative.
If you go to You Tube you can see quite a few Corpus Domini processions. I felt I would be the ugly American if I pulled out a video camera to record the event. OK, I did sneak a few photos on my phone – —