Corpus Christi Day, Toledo, Spain

Category: Toledo

Toledo is an amazing city in central Spain, one with a long and storied history, lively culture and a number of rich and colorful traditions.  One such tradition is the manner in which they celebrate Corpus Christi Day, the greatest day in the calendar of religious ceremonies and one of the most special days in the life of the city and its throng of visitors.

According to the Catholic calendar, Corpus Christi Day is liturgically celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, which usually falls in late May or early June.  In Toledo, however, the day is officially celebrated on the following Sunday, highlighted by a procession through the streets of the city’s historic district.

The first written record of these celebrations in Toledo dates back to the year 1418, prior to the completion of the city’s great Cathedral.  During the reigns of Carlos I and Felipe II, the showiness and importance of these ceremonies, typical of their dynasty, reached a fever pitch and set the tone for the celebrations held today.

Preparations for Corpus Christi Day in Toledo begin a month prior to the actual celebrations, during which time decorations are hung and the official canopy or “awning” is draped over the parade route, making sure it is high enough for the passage of the 4-meter-high Monstrance—a large early 16th century work of art, crafted of gold and silver, that has become the highlight of the processional and the main symbol for this very important day.  Arches are erected with green branches and patios are decorated and visited by the various townspeople, with a prize going to the one with the best decorations.

On the day prior to the actual procession, a famous fiesta is held, while everyone in the town does their part to ensure everything is ready for the following day.  Hundreds of folding chairs are placed along the parade route as people scramble to reserve the best seats in which to witness the procession up close.  A joyous and light-hearted parade is held in the afternoon, highlighted by figures in giant masks and the traditional Tarasca march, set to lively music as people make their way along the marked route.

On the day of the procession, the route is strewn with aromatic herbs and people drape lush fabrics and tapestries from the balconies of Plaza de Zocodover, each hand-decorated with the coat of arms and/or the Eucharist.  At eleven AM, following the solemn Pontifical Mass at the Cathedral, the procession departs from the Puerta Llana.  More than thirty guilds and religious groups participate in the parade, carrying their respective banners and crosses.  They are joined by children, many of them making their First Communion, the Gremio de Hortelanos (Laborer’s Guild), and members of the clergy, including the Archbishop of Toledo, who follows directly behind the presentation of the Monstrance during the processional.  The entire parade spans roughly three hours, ending at Plaza de Zocodover, where celebrations rage into the night.

As you might imagine, the entire month leading up to Corpus Christi Day in Toledo is very festive and makes for a great time to visit.  During this period, there are a number of cultural and leisure events sponsored, including exhibitions of arts and crafts, sporting events, concerts and bull-fighting, as well as the very popular Festive of Ancient Music.