Brief History of Midleton Corpus Christi Procession


Every year between 24th May and 28th June towns, villages and even cities throughout Ireland spruce themselves up for the annual Eucharistic Procession. This is one of the highlights of the liturgical year for Catholics. The procession usually takes place on the Sunday immediately following the Feast of Corpus Christi, which falls on the Thursday following Pentecost. Corpus Christi falls on a Thursday to link it to the celebration of Holy Thursday at Easter. Thus you can see that Corpus Christi is determined by the date of Easter each year.
As a result of the theological debates in the period 1000 to 1200, a Norbertine nun, St Juliana of Mount Cornillion, began to promote a devotion to the consecrated wafer at her convent in Liege (in modern Belgium). She soon enlisted Robert de Thorete, Bishop of Liege, as an ally in this devotion, and in 1246, Bishop Robert instituted Corpus Christi as a diocesan feast. Despite Bishop Robert’s death later in 1246, the feast was first celebrated in Liege the following year. Juliana died in 1258, but her fellow nun, Eva, petitioned the new bishop, Henry of Gueldres, to petition the pope to make the feast universal. In 1264 Pope Urban IV issued a bull to establish Corpus Christi as an annual feast of the Latin Church. He set the feast as the first Thursday following Pentecost and commissioned Thomas Aquinas OP, the most celebrated theologian of the age, to compose the Office for Corpus Christi.
However, the spread of the feast very slow until Pope Clement V ordered its adoption throughout the Church at the Synod of Vienne in 1311. By 1325 the feast of Corpus Christi had been adopted throughout all of Western Europe, including Ireland.
Banned by King Edward IV, son of King Henry VIII, the custom of Corpus Christi processions died out in Ireland until the early 1800s. At that time the Catholic Church in Ireland was reorganising itself, with a boost from Catholic Emancipation in 1829, although that was a purely political event.
Despite a brief setback during the Famine (1845-1851), the Catholic Church recovered quickly and soon began to introduce Continental devotions to promote religious life. One consequence of this was the introduction of the ‘Corpus Christi Procession’, as it became known. The procession was usually held on the Sunday following the Feast of Corpus Christi because the streets were not busy and people by now were attending Mass in even larger numbers. In most communities the procession was held after the last Mass on that Sunday. Preparations usually took the form of repainting the front of the house or shop, washing down windows, sprucing up flowerbeds and gardens, and creating an ‘altar’ or religious display in the window.
This year, 2019, Corpus Christi falls on 20th June, but in Ireland is deferred to the following Sunday – 23rd June. Normally the processions are held on the following that Sunday. But there’s a large complication – the Ironman cycle race will cover most of East Cork and will also run through Midleton. This means that roads will be closed on the day, making travel difficult and blocking off the normal route of the procession in Midleton (from Holy Rosary to Fair Green via Main Street).
The Midleton procession will be confined to the grounds and graveyard attached to Holy Rosary Church. It seems extraordinary to note that this is not the first time the procession has been held entirely within the church grounds and cemetery. This year’s procession will see a return to its...’routes’, so to speak! The procession held in 1897 was confined to the new church grounds and cemetery. This was only over eight months after Holy Rosary Church and Cemetery opened. The procession continued to be held in the same place until 1918 or 1919. The first evidence of the procession along Main Street was in 1920. Then it started at the church, went down Main Street to the Green and returned by way of St Mary’s Road and Holy Rosary Cemetery to the Church. Even then the Altar of Repose was erected in the cemetery as it had been since 1897.
Midleton’s annual Eucharistic Procession had been going for some time before 1897, perhaps from the mid or late 1880’s, and it followed a totally different route. The procession left the old Catholic Chapel of St John the Baptist (where St Mary’s High School Hall now stands) and proceeded to Chapel Cross (now Convent Cross) then turned down the road towards... Ballinacurra! The route then turned off towards Bailick, but it’s unsure if this was via the Dark Road or at the turn by the waterfront at Ballinacurra, The procession then continued along the Bailick Road and turned up the road that is now the modern Rosary Place, returning to the chapel. This was quite a long walk – longer than the route on the Main Street! You can just imagine the disruption this route would cause when crossing Lakeview Roundabout today!