A Eucharistic Processional Canopy from 1911

It may come as a surprise to some that this processional canopy was produced in Milan in the early part of the twentieth century. In fact we know precisely when it was made and by whom for the artist who worked on the textile components signed and dated the work: Felice Biella, 1911.  The form of this particular canopy, typically used in Eucharistic processions, is one of my favourite types for it presents an almost architectural like countenance that is both simple and noble in its form. 

The embroideries that decorate the canopy are quite spectacular. Beneath the main part of the canopy, as is so often the case with these or architectural "baldacchino's", is an image of the dove surrounded by rays -- symbolizing the Holy Spirit of course. Around the edges are beautiful vines, leaves and flowers. 

The outer edges, which is primarily what most people would see, shows a great deal of embroidered texture and the embroideries show some obvious neo-classical influences in the form of draped vinework -- this time grapes and grapevines, emphasizing a Eucharistic theme.  This theme is continued by the presence of shafts of wheat which have also been incorporated into the design. 

In addition to these, each panel contains one or two more explicit symbolic depictions. For example, here below we see a central motif that includes a crown of thorns and the instruments of the Passion. 

While on the opposite such panel this same theme of the instruments of the Passion is continued:

The side portions of the processional canopy, being much longer, contain two symbols, and on the first side we now see more explicit Eucharistic symbols coming in the form of the "Pelican in her piety" -- Eucharistic in nature because it symbolizes the mother pelican feeding her children with her own blood (and so the reference to the Blood of Christ should be lost on no one).  We also find this theme of the Precious Blood continued in the second symbol: a Eucharistic chalice. 

If the Blood of Christ is the theme of the one side, the Body of Christ is the theme of the opposite side, this time depicting a ciborium, which would contain the consecrated bread, and then an image of the Lamb of God.

In short then, the symbolism we find here then is dedicated to the precise function of this canopy -- to accompany and cover the Body and Blood of Christ which was achieved through the Sacrifice of Christ in the Mass -- hence the Passion symbols (which would also become poignant on Holy Thursday when the canopy would have also been used to translate the Eucharist to the altar of repose prior to Good Friday). 

It is a stunning piece of liturgical art that is well suited to its liturgical purpose, and also representative of the time in which it was produced; a time which put a premium on utilizing explicit symbols as part of a work of liturgical art. 

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