Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

entry Dec. 2015

he Infiorata

     flower petal mosaics/tapestries in Italy and Campania

The Feast of Corpus Domini (or Corpus Christi) (Latin for Body of God/Christ) is a Christian celebration of the tradition and belief in the presence of Christ in the sacrament. It is a "moveable feast" celebrated by many Christian denominations throughout the world in the months of May and June. It is traditional in many places in the Christian world to mark the feast with the construction of displays of flower petal mosaics or tapestries. In Italy these displays are called infiorate (plural of infiorata, from the root noun fiore [flower], hence the verb infiorare [to adorn with flowers]). It is common to find small displays in courtyards of abbeys or in front of churches, but the tradition produces some very elaborate and large displays, as well, often taking up the large flat surfaces of entire streets and squares. Whatever the case, the process is the same: preparation of the petals obviously takes time; then there is a chalk sketch, and then soil or coffee grounds are usually added to the outline and the design is filled in with thousands of flower petals (complete flowers or other greenery may also be inserted for a more three-dimensional effect). Large infiorate will take months to plan and days to lay out. The designs may be abstract but also commonly represent religious scenes.

The tradition is plausibly related to the strewing of petals and herbs in the Middle Ages, not just for religious celebrations but also to create pleasant fragrances in closed spaces. The tradition of the stationary infiorata is not that old, probably dating back to the early 1600s in Rome when such flower petal works of art were used to celebrate the feast day of the patron saints of the city, Peter and Paul. Only some years later did the infiorate then become part of the Corpus Domini feast. The best known infiorate in the Campania region of Italy (of which Naples is the capital) are in the towns of Sant'Agata dei Goti, Circello, and Cusano Mutri, all towns in the Campanian province of Benevento. Infiorate may also appear in towns on special occasions other than the feast of Corpus Domini, such as papal visits or visits from political dignitaries such as heads of state. In the city of Naples, itself, there used to be a regular infiorata in the Vomero section of town. That was suspended in the 1950s as the bucolic village atmosphere of the old Vomero disappeared in a wave of mass urbanization. Things have settled down, however, and there are pedestrian thoroughfares where you could lay out such a display. I have read of plans to do so. This tradition is now more widespread than ever in Italy and it seems to me to be in no danger of dying out; that's the only reason I can think of that it has not already wound up on UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

Infiorate: above left, a 1988 Italian postage stamp featuring the infiorate of Spello (Umbria);
 top of page, right, Noto (Sicily);   below left, Cusano Mutri (Campania);   below right, Sant'Agata dei Goti (Campania)

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