Corpus Christi. In the Spanish City of Granada, the celebration of the Corpus coincides with the city’s largest yearly fair.
The Feast of Corpus Christi is a Catholic event that celebrates the tradition of the Eucharist, a Christian tradition in which a priest consecrates bread and wine to be consumed by Eucharist participants. Many believers hold that the bread and wine are transubstantiated into the body and blood of Jesus. For a practicing Catholic, Jesus himself is physically present in the form of consecrated bread and wine at Corpus Christi celebrations.
This feast day celebration is always observed on the Thursday following the ninth Sunday after the first full moon of spring in the northern hemisphere. In other words, 60 days after Easter Sunday.
The event dates back to the 13th century, when a nun named Juliana de Cornillon promoted the celebration of the body and blood of Christ in Eucharist traditions. Six years after her death, in 1264, Pope Urban VI established the event throughout the Catholic Church. It began as a celebration held inside temple walls until 1447, when Nicolas V took it outside to the streets of Rome.
In Spain, the importance of this popular event is reflected in the chanting of verses that may be heard:
“Tres jueves hay en el año / que relucen más que el sol: / Jueves santo, Corpus Christi / y el día de la Ascensión”.
(After Thursday the year has / shining brighter than the sun: / Maundy Thursday, Corpus Christi / and the Feast of the Ascension).
The Feast of Corpus Christi was a holiday in Spain until 1989. Today, local festivities have been preserved in cities such as Granada, Seville and in the autonomous community of Castilla-La Mancha. Spectacular and famous processions at these festivals include the Custodia del Cuerpo de Cristo in Toledo and in Berga (Barcelona) where it is associated with La Patum (an event registered on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage). Many towns across Spain that do not observe the Thursday of Corpus Christi as a holiday celebrate their homage to the body and blood of Christ on the following Sunday.
In Granada, the celebration of the Corpus coincides with the city’s largest yearly fair. Considering Granada’s history as the peninsula’s last Muslim stronghold to survive as Christians advanced during their re-conquest, the act of throwing boldly spectacular public Corpus Christi celebrations may have been a defensive move in response to the accusations of suspecting inquisitors, always in search of the false convert.
The fair of the Corpus Christi in Granada is kicked off at midnight on the Saturday before the feast day on Thursday, when the lights that adorn the gates of the fairgrounds turn on. Hundreds of thousands of light depict local monuments, such as a door from the Alhambra. The lighting of the gates ushers in an entire week of lively festivities that will culminate in the moment the official lighting of the fair is turned off on the Sunday before the Corpus Christi celebration. This fair ground is located north of the city center. It has an enormous parking lot and is served by special public transportation lines. In contrast to Seville’s famous Feria de Abril, the Corpus de Granada is a much more open fiesta; the vast majority of fair booths are open to the public, while most are private at Seville’s fair.
Besides the dynamic religious procession held on Thursday, a unique tradition is celebrated in Granada on the eve of the feast day, an event with an atmosphere that teeters on the edge of religious observance and outright festive merrymaking: the Tarasca. On Wednesday afternoon, a figure of a beautiful young woman parades around the streets on a dragon; she is the Tarasca. Granada’s fashion designers dream of clothing the Tarasca for her triumphant ride through city. She is accompanied by a court of gigantes and cabezudos (paper maché figures of giant people) along with personalities from children’s popular culture, delighting children and inspiring whimsical smiles form adult observers. The dress that the Tarasca will wear is one of the city’s best kept secrets, and anxious residents and visitors catch eager glimpses as she passes by. It’s a pagan celebration that offers a light-hearted prelude to the intense spiritual reflection and enormous respect many will experience the following day during the procession.
The tradition of the carocas is also a distinctly Granadine tradition. A caroca is something of a limerick with a critical edge, verses that make use of humor, irony and double entendre to comment on the year’s current events. A caroca competition is also held and selected entries are exhibited in the Bib-Rambla plaza along with illustrations. Strolling around this beautiful plaza next to the cathedral, enjoying tapas and laughing at the carocas is an experience that provides special insight into the sense of humor of granadinos.
In conclusion, the Feria del Corpus is an excellent occasion to visit Granada, a wonderful place to check out in itself. This is a time for taking in spectacular monuments by morning, hitting the cafés and bars by afternoon, and partying at the fair by night. You’ll have plenty of time to sleep after the fiesta…