Corpus Christi, or the Feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord, is one of the most important church holidays. The feast of the Eucharist has a changeable date. It is always celebrated on the Thursday after the Pentecost octave. It was introduced by Bishop Robert in 1246 in the diocese of Liége in today's Belgium and instituted in 1264 by Pope Urban IV for the whole universal church. It is a public declaration of the church's faith in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, praising him, thanking him for the favors and atonement for offenses. In Poland, Corpus Christi celebrations were first introduced in 1320 by bishop Nanker in Cracow diocese.
Nowadays, still particularly solemn processions are organized in Spain and Poland, outside Europe they are present in many Latin American cities and towns. Famous Corpus Christi processions are organized in many places in Poland. The most colorful of them are the processions in Cracow, Złaków Kościelny, Łowicz, Spycimierz, Kurpie, Zakopane and Chochołów, or in Domachów near Krobia.
During the holiday, four altars are set up in the streets along the designated route, the Gospel is read next to each of them and the participants of the procession receive a blessing. Almost each parish in Poland organizes such procession on Corpus Christi Thursday, therefore tourists can also expect some obstacles in transportation as many streets are closed for the time of the processions.
The procession route is decorated with flower petals and the windows and balconies of the houses are decorated with holy images and flowers. The altars themselves, according to tradition, are decorated with birch branches, pieces of which the faithful take with them as a souvenir. Formerly, it was believed that a twig from such an altar scares witches and ensures health, that if stuck in a thatch, it protects against fire, and left in the corners of the barn, it scares away pests and ensures the preservation of the harvest. In some cities, individual altars are built by professional groups: miners, firefighters, fishermen, etc. Participants of each procession, in some regions dressed in traditional regional costumes, carry banners and feretrons depicting saints. In front of the Eucharist there are girls dressed in white or regional clothes who are throwing flower petals and altar boys with bells. However, its most important element is the monstrance carried under the canopy. The canopy is usually supported by men of particular merit to the parish.
The white of starched traditional shirts, red, pink, orange, green, embroidery and ribbons decorating regional costumes, church banners and feretrons; every year over a hundred inhabitants in regional costumes participate together with several thousand of the faithful in the Corpus Christi ceremony in Łowicz which is probably the most famous Corpus Christi processions in the country. The procession is always watched, photographed and recorded by crowds of tourists from all over the country and from abroad.
It is famous for the tradition of arranging flower carpets. The custom supposedly dates back to the end of the 18th century. Formerly, patterns were sprinkled with sand, today they are flower petals, moss, pebbles and leaves. The originators and performers of the patterns are the inhabitants of houses located along the approximately 2-kilometer long procession route and the faithful from the surrounding villages belonging to the Spycimierz parish.
It is one of the most beautiful and best-preserved villages in Podhale mountainous region of Poland with alpine character. Many houses were built here in the 19th century, inspired by Stanisław Witkiewicz characteristic wooden Zakopane style. In this scenery, a Corpus Christi procession is organized every year. Its participants, almost all of them, dressed in traditional highlander costumes, travel the route that begins in the neo-gothic church of St. Jack.
The traditional procession in Cracow starts at Wawel Castle and ends at the Main Market Square and is lead by Cracow’s archbishop. In the procession tourist can admire regional Cracow costumes, work groups and even historical reconstruction of the old Polish costumes.
It is really worth to visit Poland during Corpus Christi bank holiday to observe celebrations, processions and decorations and a proof of still Catholic character of Poland. Participation in the procession is a public manifestation of faith for many people that is something worth recognition. If you want to visit Poland and observe various holidays and celebrations, contact one of ITS-Poland professional group specialists that will help you to plan and organize all your stay details.
Author: Agnieszka Szwedzińska
Photos by Mariusz Cieszewski
and by Joanna Adamik