“That’s my bit,” says Anna, pointing to a tiny section of the giant tapestry constructed of moss, seeds and petals that adorns the wall of the Red House Museum in Mazo.
We all laugh at the absurdity of claiming a square inch of nondescript hedgerow in a landscape canvas that fills the wall, like boasting about placing a single piece in a complex jigsaw, but behind the laughter you can see the pride in Anna’s eyes. It’s not the single patch of moss that matters, it’s the fact that Anna contributed, along with everyone else in her village, to the finished article. In this case, the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.
Community is everything in Villa de Mazo, the municipality that welcomes visitors to La Palma, it’s nucleus and main town sitting 500 metres above the island’s airport. Like much of La Palma, the municipality’s residents are primarily artisans and subsistence farmers, working the land as they have done for centuries. Immigrating to Cuba and Venezuela to escape the poverty of the 1950s to 1970s and returning with what little money they had managed to save, the community spirit in Mazo is stronger than ever, and when the feast of Corpus Christi comes around, it’s their opportunity to shine.
The laying of flower carpets for Corpus Christi is a widespread tradition and many towns across Europe annually construct magnificent, floral works of art, some of the most prized being in La Orotava on La Palma’s neighbouring island of Tenerife. But there is only one place in the world where the flowers are laid vertically instead of horizontally, and that’s in Mazo.
Planning for construction of Mazo’s floral arches begins a full year in advance with designs committed firstly to paper. Like a Heavenly organogram, Christ is always placed at the top of the arch while below Him, cherubs, eagles and doves take their place within an elaborate series of circles, crosses and candelabras that twist and weave their way to the ground, which could be anywhere between 10 and 20 metres below.
One triumphal arch is made by each of the 15 barrios or districts within the municipality. The flowers to adorn the Corpus Christi are picked according to the phase of the moon and their petals are used alongside seeds, moss and leaves to create the triumphal arches, a traditional floral carpet above which the arch is erected, and a floral altar on which the Holy Eucharist is blessed as the Corpus Christi procession walks through.
For months in advance, 30 or 40 people, mainly women, from each district work on the arches, carpets and altars using a mixture of flour, vinegar and water as paste. It’s back breaking work and cakes and biscuits are brought along and shared to keep spirits up while they chat about the things that bind them as a community – births, deaths, marriages, family and politics.
On the Wednesday night before the Corpus Christi processions, the people work through the night to erect their arches and lay their floral carpets, their bonds of community bound as tightly and as organically as the petals and seeds to the arches.
Corpus Christi in Mazo
Date: 30th May 2013 is the day of the Corpus Christi processions with arches, carpets and altars being erected the night before amidst a carnival atmosphere. A comprehensive programme of concerts, games competitions, theatre and dancing continue for the next four days.
Location: Villa de Mazo, La Palma, Canary Islands
Getting there: Thomson fly weekly from Manchester and from London Gatwick to Santa Cruz de La Palma for under £240 return
Staying: La Palma’s Rural Tourism Association have almost 80 rural houses available to rent on the island including in Villa de Mazo.
The Red House Museum, Villa de Mazo
El Museo Casa Roja (Red House) in Mazo contains arches, altars, carpets and pictures from Corpus Christi festivities as well as traditional embroidery and lace work. Open Mon-Fri 10am-2pm, Sat 11am-6pm; entrance €2
Images of Mazo’s Corpus Christi Arcs courtesy of Patronato Turismo La Palma
Andrea (Andy) Montgomery is a freelance travel writer and co-owner of Buzz Trips and The Real Tenerife series of travel websites. Published in The Telegraph, The Independent, Wexas Traveller, Thomas Cook Travel Magazine, EasyJet Traveller Magazine, you can read her latest content on Google+