Corpus Domini: time to transubstantiate

I didn’t think the traditional Corpus Domini procession was going to take place at Ghivizzano Castello on Thursday evening (normally it takes place the first Thursday after Trinity Sunday) – the day had opened with noisy and flashy storms and continued with wave after wave of downpours. But by the evening a miracle had happened – the sky cleared enough for me to descend on my scooter down a valley roaring with the sound of gushing waters, and reach the parish church in the fortified town.

The feast of Corpus Christi  (or Domini) is a liturgical solemnity celebrating the belief in the transubstantiation of the body and blood of Jesus Christ who is present in the Eucharist host. Although the doctrine of transubstantiation is a sticking-point among protestant communities, Corpus Christi is also celebrated by many parts of the Anglican Church and, of course, by Anglo-Catholics. The feast of Corpus Christi emphasizes the joy of the blood and body of Christ as distinct from the sombre atmosphere they perpetrated during His passion on Holy Thursday and Good Friday.

The institution of the feast is due to the hard work of Juliana of Liège, a 13th-century religious woman (perhaps living in a beguinage?) who as an orphan was brought up in a convent and developed a special veneration for the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist and desired a feast day outside Lent to celebrate it. After her death, Pope Urban IV officially proclaimed the feast of Corpus Christi throughout the entire Roman Catholic Church in 1264 and it’s been going strong ever since.

Our prodigious choir master sprinted up the perilous staircase in the bell-tower which leads to the organ loft.  Above him are the clock mechanism and the bells which later in the evening clanged out their mightiest (hand swung as well – not rope pulled!).

Grouped  in the organ loft like doves we were ready to sing

We started off with Marco Frisina (founder and director of the Rome diocesan choir, religious film music writer, songsmith for the likes of Mina and the Chieftains and composer of at least twenty oratorios including one on Dante’s Divine Comedy and who I like to term the Italian John Rutter for his ability to write tuneful, worthwhile and singeable music – although, of course, his style is quite different) and his Anima Christi:

The church of Ghivizzano Castello is of Romanesque origin, although this can only really be ascertained from the exterior. Inside the church has had quite a few makeovers giving it a baroque atmosphere. It has rather better acoustics than the church where we rehearse at Ghivizzano Piana but until recently was not much used because of the disabled-unfriendly approach staircase.

Fortunately, I notice that a lift has now been installed and will shortly come into operation. Well done comune di Coreglia Antelminelli (of which Ghivizzano forms a part).

Among the other bits we sang during the Mass was an imposing Sanctus:

And, during the communion, another gorgeous piece by Frisina: his Pane di Vita Nuova.

At the end we all filed out and followed the procession through the town’s dim, narrow and highly picturesque streets. The transubstantiated host was carried high in a beautiful ostensory by the parish priest and sheltered under a palanquin carried by four strong men who often had to dodge obstacles in the constricted lanes.

Further hymns were sung by the congregation, one of which transported me back to the last night of the proms!

We filed out of the east gateway and then back to finish up at the chapel of Sant’Antonio which used to be the parish church before the Church of San Pietro e Paolo (where we sang) was enlarged. This delightful chapel has the old octagonal font dating back to 1400 in which baptism by total immersion formerly used to take place. Baptists would be pleased! A second (non-total immersion –rite prescription had changed by then) baptismal font is placed against a side wall with its delightfully naïve fresco:

It’s good to be together as the priest said and we were clearly glad that this year, as in all the previous hundreds of years it must have taken place, the Corpus Domini celebration was dutifully performed.

I left the charmed fortified settlement of Ghivizzano with its secret defence passages in the twilight and got home before it started to pour again. Corpus Christi obviously wanted me to be there singing!


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