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Street banners, giant candles and the odd cigarette: Corpus Christi in Seville

Santa Justa and Rufina at Corpus Christi in Seville (Wikimedia)

The crowds surged through the streets of Seville, and my second-youngest son and I moved with them. They moved steadily, stopping not only for tapas and cervezas (beer) as one does here, but also to pause, look, discuss and take photographs.

For on this Corpus Christi eve, shops, groups and churches had set up beautifully decorated altars in windows and street corners and hung banners from balconies. Surrounded by gleaming silver, rich banners and bountiful flowers, Jesus, Mary and the saints and countless cherubim greeted us, and we greeted them.

Corpus Christi had not been on my mind when I booked this trip to Seville. I didn’t make the connection until well into the planning. But now, mid-June is here and so are we, ready to take it in.

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Seville was chosen almost at random, as is often the case with our holidays. I took the three youngest to Sicily after my husband died in 2009, simply because Sicily was somewhere he’d never cared about visiting, so I reasoned (incorrectly) that this would be a place where I wouldn’t think about that loss so much. We’ve been to Guatemala because of my youngest’s strange interest in all things Maya. We went to Bologna because the airfare was crazy cheap.

And every time, in those places where we happen to be, we find something new. Or rather, Wisdom somehow finds me and I let her in, even if only for a moment.

I’m here with the two youngest – not so young any more, being 18 and 14. I’m also here with my second son, his wife and son. I wanted this one last big blast of a trip, the last before the 18-year-old goes off to college. It’s also a gift to that married son, as they’re expecting another child and big travel days will undoubtedly be put on pause for a bit.

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When the morning of the Corpus Christi procession comes, we head for the Plaza de San Francisco. Our wonderful apartment owner, Miguel, who texts me every morning with advice, had suggested that purchasing seats for the two-and-a-half hour procession might be wise. So the day before, I’d searched out the ticket office and said “Si ” to whatever the man pointed to on his chart.

These points were, as it happened, and not by any plan of mine, right in the middle of the Plaza de San Francisco, where the procession begins after it leaves the cathedral. We found our seats after some confusion – they’re not numbered, and a kind Spanish woman took pity on me after the fourth yellow-vested helper referred me to someone else.

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The procession turned out to be not exactly what I expected. Which was what? Perhaps lots of bands, many children in First Communion clothes, more pasos – the name for the floats with images of saints? Perhaps.

What I got instead was literally hundreds of Sevillians, organised in their confraternities, walking past me, some silent and solemn, some chatting, only one smoking at a slow point. Young and old, all bearing metre-long candles held at an angle positioned just so that wax dripped, not on shoes or a child’s head, but on the rosemary-strewn ground underfoot.

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At least 30 minutes of this passed before we got our first paso borne by strong men, lightly applauded by the crowd, a saint towering above us, gleaming, surrounded by flowers.

And so it went on and on, and I admit I became a bit impatient with this. I wanted more entertainment – until I remembered something rather important.

This whole thing, this Corpus Christi procession, was not intended to be a spectator sport for my entertainment. In its origins and indeed, in its practice for the most part, it is a community event. And something more: it’s a time to come, approach Christ, escort him through the city, and be led by him.

As Benedict XVI said of this moment:

“The Corpus Christi procession teaches us that the Eucharist seeks to free us from every kind of despondency and discouragement, wants to raise us, so that we can set out on the journey with the strength God gives us through Jesus Christ … Each one can find his own way if he encounters the One who is the Word and the Bread of Life and lets himself be guided by his friendly presence.”

And so here we are, in these strange places we’ve ended up in for reasons we really can’t explain, and here He is, right with us. I can watch, certainly, but that simply leaves me standing still. To find my way? I might just have to leave that reserved seat behind – and join the crowds.

Amy Welborn is the author of more than 20 books on Catholic spirituality, history and catechesis. Her website is amywelborn.com