The Feast of Corpus Christi (Latin for "Body of Christ") is the day on which the Catholic Church commemorates the institution of the Holy Eucharist. Also known as the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, it is celebrated annually on the church calendar on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, this year falling on June 8.
Holy Eucharist in monstrance carried in procession in Kadzidło, Poland. Author photo.
The feast day, called Boże Ciało in Polish, has been widely and solemnly celebrated in Poland since the 16th century and continues to this day. The Holy Eucharist is carried through the streets in a monstrance and stops at four different altars where it is venerated and adored.
An important custom of the Feast of Corpus Christi was the weaving of wreaths as small as the palm of the hand made of different herbs. This was especially true in rural, agricultural villages and areas where herbs and plants could be grown in home gardens or found in nearby fields and meadows.
In the Podlasie region, an area which runs along the Narew River in northeast Poland, the women wove nine small wreaths, each made from a different herb: thyme, hazelwort, stonecrop, lady's mantle, sundew, mint, rue, daisy, and periwinkle. Other plants which could also be used included lovage, sage and linden.
Lady's Mantle in author's garden.
Weaving a wreath made from Lady's Mantle for Corpus Christi. Images from Muzeum Rolnicztwa im. Ks. Krzysztofa Kluka in Ciechanowiec.
The wreaths were hung on the 4 different altars and then taken to church where they stayed for the week following Corpus Christi. The wreathes were believed to gain strength and power due to their proximity to the Holy Eucharist.
When the eight-day celebration of Corpus Christi was over, the blessed wreaths were taken home and served a variety of purposes. Healing infusions were prepared from the dry herbs of sage or linden for coughs, colds and sore throats. Some wreathes were placed under the foundation of a newly-built house to ward off evil spirits and protect the inhabitants who lived within. In Polish folklore it was said that when Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris) called przywrotnik was thrown into the home fire, the smoke would disperse storm clouds that threatened the destruction of crops.
Wreathes of Lady’s Mantle were hung above the entrance to the house, near windows and on the walls above holy pictures, believing that it protected the house against fire, storm and lightning strikes.
Wreaths of Lady’s Mantle were also burned on hot coals, incensing sick people as well as ailing animals.
Lady’s Mantle can easily be grown in the garden. As a perennial, it does well in shady areas and is quite hardy in cold temperature regions. If you just want to add the yellow-chartreuse flowers to a dry arrangement for your home altar perhaps, they hold up pretty well after hanging the stems upside down in an airy space for a few weeks.
For more on the flowers and plants once essential to the people of Poland available in: Polish Herbs, Flowers and Folk Medicine, Hippocrene Books, Inc.
For more images on the making of Corpus Christi wreaths: muzeumrolnictwa.pl/aktualnosci/archiwum/rok-2018/wianki-w-oktawe-bozego-ciala
One of the biggest moments in my life was being able to sign for my very own library card. When I'm not reading, researching and writing I'm riding my bike, sewing or gardening. I love flea markets, folk art, and traveling to Poland.