“Infiorate” [plural] means flower decorations and, with the coming of spring, these are the pride and joy of several small Italian towns. The tradition is associated with the festival of Corpus Christi or Corpus Domini which honours the Eucharist.
No one knows quite why, in the eighteenth century, some towns began to celebrate the festival by turning their streets into carpets of flowers. Perhaps the townsfolk were simply using what was on hand to create beauty.
Bolsena, in Lazio
First of all, let us visit Bolsena [Lazio] for it was here that a miracle associated with Corpus Christi is said to have occurred in 1263. A priest called Peter of Prague stayed overnight in the town on his way to Rome. This priest had difficulty in believing that Christ was present in the consecrated communion bread but, while he was celebrating Mass in the Church of Santa Cristina, blood from the Host started to pour onto his hands and the linen altar cloth.
Confused, the priest asked to see Pope Urban IV, who investigated the event and, finally declaring it a miracle, had the blood-stained Host and linen cloth placed in the Cathedral of Orvieto, where the cloth can be seen to this day. In 1264 Pope Urban IV established the feast of Corpus Christi.
Every year on Corpus Christi a carpet of flowers covers the 3-kilometre Eucharist Procession route in the streets of Bolsena and wild onions, chestnuts and reeds are also used. Coloured sawdust forms the borders to the designs and the effect is similar to that of stained glass.
The date of this year’s infiorata di Bolsena is 6th June. For more information, visit the website.
Spello, in Umbria
Spello in Umbria will hold its infiorata from 5th – 6th June this year, covering all its streets with elaborate pictures created from flower petals. This is a competitive infiorata so the townsfolk work in teams and prizes are awarded in several categories. At midday on Sunday 6th June a bell will ring in Spello and this is the signal for the Bishop to begin his procession through the town.
The town’s website reminds us that, though the growing and preparation of the flowers require many weeks, they are all laid out in their patterns in the course of a single night. A nursery gardening exhibition will be held in Spello’s public gardens and the town’s restaurants will be serving dishes containing edible flowers during the infiorata. For more information, visit the website.
Pietra Ligure, in Liguria
A spectacular infiorata, the town’s third, is planned at Pietra Ligure [Liguria] on 22nd – 23rd May.
800 experts from Italy and Germany will gather in the town to reproduce, with flower petals, famous works of art. The designs will be best viewed from the air and visitors will be able to take free balloon flights to see them. The flights can be booked at the information point in the town’s Piazza Nicolò. Helicopter flights, costing 40 euros per person, can be booked by calling 349 817 3415. For more information, visit the website.
These are only three of Italy’s many infiorate in this spring period. Please note that Corpus Christi is a moveable feast so the dates given are for 2010 only.
Months of preparation, one frantic night spent lovingly placing the petals in their designs, two days of viewing and then…. a religious procession walks on the beautiful carpet and it is gone…
Have you ever seen an infiorata?