A Festival of Flowers
Cagli residents paint their streets with flower art to celebrate Corpus Domini
CAGLI, Italy - On the Sunday morning celebrating Corpus Domini the procession that flowed from the Catholic found the streets in this historic Roman town awash in a sea of colorful flowers and herbs painting in precise detail countless religious scenes. The artwork stretched the entire length of the marchers route circling the outer wall of the city, then back to the main piazza.
Yet just three hours earlier, the same streets were bare, grey cobblestones.
The quick transformation wasn’t unusual. It’s just another a sign of the community commitment to tradition – civic or religious – in Italian towns that involves citizens of all walks of life, and beliefs.
Gardener Bruno Dilmedico is one example. He does his part by gathering wild flowers for neighbors who fashion the artwork. Two days before the procession, he was climbing the side of Monte Bambino, located about 10 minutes outside of the center of Cagli (pronounced Kal – yee), to pick an herb called sterpolle used for the procession art.
A long-stemmed green plant with oval leaves that come to a point, sterpolle grows on steep mountainsides filled with slippery rocks. It’s a habitat also preferred by local snakes, which adds a spice of danger to the job.
But it was clear that was not Dilmedico’s first try. He arrived dressed in thick olive green pants, hiking boots, a tan long-sleeved shirt and a matching vest. His dark hair was slicked back into a ponytail, and his face was tanned a deep mahogany from a life sent under the sun.
Armed with a hooked metal blade called a falcetto, Dilmedico started up the slippery path, continuously stomping the ground to scare away snakes. He said the falcetto is the ideal tool for this work because the plant is able to grow back stronger after it is cut down. Bruno said, “the roots of the herbs are deep in the ground and many people just cut the most superficial part. So you keep the roots safe, but [you are able to] cut the flowers so it comes back next year.
Sterpolle, also called santoreggia, is in the oregano family and common in southern Europe. It is often used because of its fragrant aroma.
Ginestra is another common flower used to shower the streets for Corpus Domini. Its bright yellow color stands out against the green of the sterpolle and gray of the streets. Roses, wildflowers, and died woodchips are also used to bring the streets alive.
The plants are usually picked a day or two before the precession, stored in a cool place and often soaked in water. “The herbs need to get wet because it can be really windy and they could fly away,” Dilmedico explained, speaking through an interpreter.
When he finished cutting, Dilmedico took his haul to Cagli residents Rosanna Pecorelli and Paola Passetti, who live off the main piazza in a row of light brown concrete buildings, their wooden door framed by stone blocks. Three hours before the procession started, they were on their street joining neighbors creating the flower art. They begin by drawing chalk outlines of their chosen designs, then use the colorful, fragrant flowers petals and herbs are used to fill in the images.
Passetti, in black capris and a flowing white scoop neck shirt, said they change the design every year, depending on what’s on their mind at the moment. According to her, the festival is “a family tradition.” This year they placed a design of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
On either side of the two women, the streets were coming alive with mosaics painted on the ground. The Scout troop of Cagli used wild flowers and died woodchips of bright greens, yellows, reds, browns, and purples to create the scripture line from Christ, “Io sono la vera vite” – I am the true vine.
But many images appeared to have no religious significance, but were simply beautiful designs.
By the time the church doors open for the procession, the streets of Cagli have quickly been transformed for Corpus Domini, just as they have been for generations.
Even if the residents laying out a carpet of flowers aren’t religious, it doesn’t matter because Corpus Domini is a time to celebrate with everyone.
Dilmedico leaned back on the side of a concrete building and watched the line of people passed through the street over the artwork. through the streets. He said he didn’t feel the need to join the trail of worshippers behind the priests.
“It’s a tradition for each person, “ he said, “even if religious feeling is not there.”