This is a photo from a Fête-Dieu procession that I took when I was in Paris in June this year. As part of my research on eighteenth-century religious art in Parisian parishes, I've been looking into the history of these processions during the early modern period and so was keen to get some sense of the experience even at this historical remove. The traditionalist parish of Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet is now one of the only parishes left in the city that still performs the ritual.
Fête-Dieu (or Corpus Christi) is a moveable feast of the Roman Catholic Church (and some other Christian churches) celebrated annually in the week after Trinity Sunday (usually falling in May or June). The feast originated as a practice in the thirteenth century, and liturgically it commemorates the ritual of the Eucharist.
By the eighteenth-century, however, the feast day was not only theologically significant, but had also become a key community event in the urban calendar. One of the key rituals associated with the feast is the procession in which the consecrated Host is carried out of the church and into the streets of the parish so that all the community could witness and celebrate the Body of Christ. Each parish had its own procession in which the clergy and congregation would walk through and around the parish, marking its boundaries, and thus celebrating (or at least demarcating) the spaces encompassed by the local community.
|Place Dauphine on Turgot's 1739 map of Paris|
|Contemporary Fête-Dieu Procession route (base map from Google)|
|Temporary altar on procession route with Notre-Dame in the background|