One of the most important European summer festivals involved a daylong procession from a tent to the town’s cathedral. Unlike the peasant dances, weddings, and small village feasts, this formal pageant incorporated as many groups in the procession as existed. Gertrude Hartman in
Medieval Days and Ways
gives an in teresting and informative description of the role of the guilds in presenting plays on portable stages (pp. 190-198). Other sources on drama in festivals are V.A. Kolve’s
The Play Called Corpus Christi
and Geyenne Wickham’s
Early English Stages, Vol. I
, (pp. 122 ff.). Edward Muir describes the Venetian pageant in
Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice
. Before thousands of spectators assembled in the piazza under a huge white canopy, the ceremonies officially began when the doge (mayor) entered the square, confessed, and took his seat to watch the parade which sometimes lasted five to six hours. The groups invited to attend formed a lengthy preamble to the ducal procession itself. The composition of the procession was distinctive in two ways: every important group in Venice participated and it assured the population of official support for pilgrimages.
In addition to the human parade were many floats and demonstrations. Some of the religious objects were so heavy that four or more men had to carry them. Religious devotion was not the only characteristic of this solemn procession. Decorated clothes, silver plates, beautiful scenes on platforms, gilded and jeweled objects were not only beautiful to see; they marked a grand display of Venetian wealth and power. In particular, they signaled if not the triumph of state over church, the separation of it.
Students can look at several slides of the Corpus Christi procession. “The Procession of Corpus Christi” by Giacomo Franco and “Procession in Piazza San Marco” by C’entile Bellini both attest to Venetian precision and social control. Students can learn more about how these processions reflect the hierarchical nature and values of Renaissance societies by reading Thomas Dekker’s description of a London triumphal processions entitled “Troia Nova Triumphans” (available in Insitute office). With such a feast as this, we begin to pass from popular to official fesitivity. All the feasts that follow are more in the realm of splendid official pageants and represent an opportunity for contrast. Ask students to discuss the main differences between “official” and “popular” celebrations. The number and varieties of people, the wealth displayed, the apparent order and control, the different symbols and symbolic objects are some of the general points they may discuss.