It’s June 1936. Francisco Franco is Governor General of the Canary Islands and is in La Orotava watching the Corpus Christi procession as it passes over the floral works of art.
Well known as a dissenter, Franco has been posted to the furthest and quietest outreach of Spanish governance to keep him out of harm’s way. If only they’d known then that most powerful of idioms – keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. The authorities are expecting trouble, there have been whispers of an assassination attempt and the Guardia have a heavy presence, their cars parked beneath the magnolia frontage of Casas de Los Balcones. In the event, the procession passes quietly without incident.
Fast forward 75 years and on the 30th June 2011, the alfombristas of La Orotava will unveil the 106th carpet to be constructed in the Plaza Ayuntamiento (Town Hall Square). During its existence this most fragrant of Canary Islands traditions has seen some important feet passing over its cobbled streets, not least those of the Corpus Christi procession to whom it owes its existence.
Rolling out the carpet
The feast of Corpus Christi had already been celebrated for over 300 years in Tenerife, predominantly in La Laguna where the day was marked by theatre, dancing and traditional games as well as pious acts, before the first petals were ever laid in La Orotava. The honour of being the first is attributed to Leonor de Castillo Monteverde who, in 1847, thought it would be a nice idea to decorate the road outside her home for the Corpus Christi procession to walk over. So successful was Leonor’s idea that the practice quickly spread to other parts of the island and her descendants still complete that section of road outside her home today.
In their 164 year history the La Orotava flower carpets have only twice been suspended, once in 1891 and again in 1897. Last year, despite the persistent rain that marred the whole proceedings, the people still turned out to make their flower carpets and to ensure that their 120 year unbroken record still stands.
The La Orotava Town Hall tapestry
Despite the popularity of decorating La Orotava’s streets for the procession, it was to be almost 70 years after Leonor’s radical gesture before the Plaza Ayuntamiento stained its face in the name of religious devotion.
The Corpus Christi procession began passing through the Town Hall plaza in 1913 but it wasn’t until 1919 when Felipe Machado and BenÃtez de Lugo took it upon themselves to carpet the square in flowers and vegetation that the tapestry tradition began. Before then, the only time the square had seen decoration was in 1905 when a floral carpet tribute had been laid to honour the Spanish Navy ensign.
On the 21st May 2011, work began on this year’s tapestry, the theme of which is the 26th World Youth Day which will once again bring the Pope to Spain. This year’s design will use 21 different colours to create 20 individual tapestries as a nod to the 20 years that this particular group of alfombristas have been the creators of the carpets and the latest generation of artists to continue the ethereal tradition that has characterised the town for so long.
The La Orotava Corpus Christi flower carpets take place on 30th June 2011.