Imagine the scene. It’s seven in the evening, and you decide to visit Plaza de la Virgen for a drink and enjoy the people-watching opportunity. Suddenly, two police on horseback clop-clop by, followed by the sound of a band playing music. A moment later, a medieval float is ushered into place in front of the basilica to a carefully marked resting spot in the plaza.
This is the festival of Corpus Christi, or el Corpus here in Valencia. Celebrated 60 days after Easter, this celebration goes back to medieval times when the popes and bishops instituted the practice of having a feast to celebrate the body of Christ (i.e. the church) in the world. Here in Valencia, the celebration lasts for the weekend, and really starts with this procession of floats into the Plaza de la Virgen.
As with much medieval art, images were chosen carefully to tell a story and instruct the viewer on the “correct” way to live. As a side benefit, this often frightened the heck out of little kids. What fun. Like stained glass windows in a church, the images are stylized and intense, and easy to examine for several minutes.
The floats are called rocas, or rocks, although it is not clear where this name originated. There is an amazing museum of these figures in Valencia, and worth a quick visit when possible.
The floats themselves are in the shapes of small boats (making more sense for the English word of “float” for a moving structure in a parade) with a significant scene above. In the pictures below, you can see St. George and the Dragon, turtles, a dragon, a boat on the waves, St. Joseph, the Virgin Mary, St. Vincent Ferrer, the Holy Grail (said to reside in Valencia’s Cathedral), something that looks like blind justice, and Lucifer and the seven vices. Almost all date back to the medieval period, and are extremely detailed works of art. Emblems, embellishments, and Valencian flags appear in many of the details.
Setting the stage… getting ready for the rocas.