The Corteo Storico of Corpus Domini

June 15, 2011 / Events
Orvieto, Umbria
Each June, the city is buzzing with excitement and anticipation. Everyone is out in full force, enthusiastically preparing for this most important celebration for Orvietani specifically, and for the Roman Catholic world most particularly.

Orvieto is home to one of the most spectacular Duomi in all of Italy. How did such a small town manage to build such a magnificent Cathedral? Well, in order to build this Cathedral it took a miracle: Il Miracolo di Bolsena (The Miracle of Bolsena) to be exact.

The story goes like this… in 1263 a doubting priest on a pilgrimage to Rome stops in Bolsena to celebrate mass. During the consecration, blood seeps from the host onto the holy corporal, restoring the priest’s faith and prompting Pope Urban IV, living in nearby Orvieto, to proclaim the feast of Corpus Domini and to order a Duomo be constructed to provide a home for the miraculous relic, where it remains enshrined today!

Following the solemn mass and procession of Corpus Domini is the Corteo Storico (historic pageant/parade). Walking in this parade are many Orvietani dressed in historical and graceful garb – seeing the Corteo is to be transported back to Orvieto’s medieval and Renaissance past. Over 400 magnificent costumes, brilliantly colored flags and banners, drums, trumpets, armor and weapons, all representing the municipal courts, social and political positions and the military strength of the era.

The Corteo is a supreme example of Italy’s appreciation of tradition, and reverence of the past and of those who came before. Many Orvietani return to their hometown each summer to join with their childhood friends in the Corteo. You can’t help but wonder if they see the lives of their ancestors reflected back at them when dressed in their costumes? I’d like to think so. This celebration is as important a ritual for them as it is for the community. It’s about keeping the historical chain unbroken and building upon the collective memory of the town’s medieval roots thousands of years ago.

– Images kindly contributed by Patrick Raymond Nicholas and Giorgio Campanari. Many thanks to you both from IN!

Toni DeBella

by Toni DeBella

A Freelance writer and blogger at Orvieto or Bust, Toni recently packed everything she owns into two suitcases and headed to Orvieto, Italy.  She’s adjusted her tennis game to the clay courts and drinks way too many caffe lattes. 

21 Responses to “The Corteo Storico of Corpus Domini”

  1. Anne Robichaud

    Toni – enjoyed molto! Irony of ironies: i just read your piece here at the Internet cafe’ here in Bolsena on Lake Bolsena, just around the corner from one of my favorite churches, Santa Cristina, site of the Miracolo di Bolsena as you know…!!! Had to take a friend in to see the lovely 8th c chapel where the Host dripped blood at the Consecration in the 13th c….and of course, to see all the lovely Della Robbias here…

  2. Denise

    Thought it might be you Toni! Glad to have you on Italian Notebook! Welcome!

  3. Stanley Crabb

    Thanks so much for this, IN. Orvieto was just a short drive from Rome up the Autostrada, but we had missed this background about that wonderful and spectacular Cathedral! IN continues to amaze us with your wonderful backgrounds and stories. Keep it up. Italy, as we always knew, is literally an inexhaustible country of wonder! What would we have done without it???…and what would we have done without YOU FOLKS at IN???

  4. Miriam Raubvogel

    I am so glad to have found this wonderful site…I still have many fond memories of Orvieto..and beautiful pottery which I treasure.

  5. Anthony Paceoni

    I was just in Orvieto for the first time in April. The Duomo, was closed for Good Friday services, but just seeing this magnificent structure from the outside was awesome. Also, the people here are wonderful!!!! Will return next spring and spend more time in Orvieto………Magnifico!!!!! Grazie……

  6. Toni DeBella

    Everyone, thank you so much for commenting on my very first “note” on Italian Notebook. It has been quite a moving experience to share my love of Orvieto and its traditions with all of you. Anne: It never ceases to amaze me how small the world is and how crazy is it that you were in Bolsena when you were reading this note? Life is full of wonderful surprises! Thanks Denise for the welcome…I am thrilled to be part of Italian Notebook and have to thank most sincerely, GB for this fantastic opportunity. Grazie Tutti. Baci. Toni

  7. My husband and I were in Orvieto in 2009. The duomo is just breath-taking. The town is very quaint and I loved the people there too. I hope to go back next year and visit again.I will never forget the inside of the duomo and the beautiful area that Orvieto is located.
    Thanks so much for sharing this article with us.

  8. Toni DeBella

    Claudia, I have to agree with you that there is an austere beauty to the inside of the Duomo that takes your breath away. I remember attending the secondary school’s music concert inside and thinking “do these students realize what a magnificant “stage” they are performing from? However, I also remember wearing my coat and gloves throughout the performance…its cold inside in the winter!!! When you are in Orvieto next, if you haven’t already visited it, see the church of San Giovanale. It’s the oldest church in Umbria and so lovely and antique. I think you will love it and the view just outside it’s doors is quite something also. Ciao. toni

  9. Helen Ruchti

    Before the autostrada del sole was completed, I drove from Roma north, approaching Orvieto at sunset. Through my windshield I saw the Cathedrale’s golden facade illuminated by the setting sun. Fantastico!

  10. Toni DeBella

    Helen, you are right, from the Autostrada side of the Rupe you can’t see the the Duomo’s beautiful facade,but from the road to Poranno with the sun shing down on it, it is a magical experience. Thanks for comment. Buona serata.toni

  11. Janet Eidem

    Toni, I love your wonderful photos. They really express the reverence the people of Orvieto have for the occasion. Thanks for the grand text too! Janet

  12. Toni DeBella

    Janet. You understand very well how lovely it is to take seriously these tradition – one thing that we can learn from Italians…so many centuries of art, history and tradition and even young people take it seriously!!Its so impressive. thanks for writing. Toni

  13. Barbara

    Lovely story Toni, would love to be in Orvieto right about now!

  14. Dear Toni,

    Italians love their traditions:
    Siena has the hectic Palio horse race; Gubbio has the passionate “Corsa dei Ceri” where teams of 16 men carry heavy statues of their 3 Saint Patrons, racing through the town and up the mountain.
    Orvieto maintains its connection to the past with a peaceful “Processione del Corpus Domini”, a religious procession in medieval customs that is as unique as the city itself: a celebration of art and tradition centered on its magnificent Cathedral you so well described. Brava!
    Un cuore orvietano.

  15. Toni DeBella

    Grazie, Gianfranco!
    Although I live in San Francisco, my heart and mind are always in Orvieto. In fact, someone once described me at “Americana per nascita’, ma orvietana dell’adozione”. It was the greatest of compliments. Thank you, Gianfranco for your lovely comment. Toni

  16. Agnes Esposito

    Toni, Loved the article. Even though we have visted Orvieto before, we never got to the duomo. We will see it this year when we spend time in Spello and visit Orvieto. Thanks for a great article.

  17. Toni DeBella

    Thank you Agnes, glad you enjoyed the article…after you have been inside the Duomo, I suggest you sit across the piazza on the benches and spend time looking at its facade from that perspective. There are so many statues and details…after all the time I have spent in Orvieto, I continue to see something new every time! Toni


Leave a Reply