In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Corpus Christi

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Anniversary Publications, Colloquia, and Exhibitions
  • Histories
  • Primary Sources

Medieval Studies Corpus Christi
Vincent Corrigan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0144


The Feast of Corpus Christi was the culmination of nearly four hundred years of debate about the nature of the Eucharist. The debate was concluded by the Fourth Lateran Council, where the term transubstantiation was first used to describe the transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ in the mass. The feast was first instituted in Liège in 1246 at the urging of Juliana of Mont-Cornillon, who served at the nearby leper house. Urban IV extended it to the entire Church in 1264 through his bull Transiturus de hoc mundo. Urban established the day of the feast as the Thursday following the octave of Pentecost (feria quinta post octavas penthecostes), an echo of Holy Thursday, when the Last Supper took place. Thus Corpus Christi is tied to Easter and can fall as early as 21 May or as late as 24 June. Urban’s bull was reaffirmed by Clement VI in 1311 at the Council of Vienne (not Vienna, as one often reads), and the reaffirmation was published by John XXII in 1317, after which the feast spread rapidly throughout Europe. During the 14th and 15th centuries, various accretions built up around the feast. The chants of the liturgy were given polyphonic elaboration, Eucharistic scenes increasingly attracted the attentions of visual and plastic artists, and confraternities and guilds dedicated themselves to the Eucharist and its celebration. Finally, the feast entailed a substantial civic procession from the 14th century on, and these processions inspired the pageants and play cycles in England, Germany, and Spain. Interest in and opposition to the concept of transubstantiation and the feast continued through the 16th century up to the present. All of this activity lies outside the scope of the present bibliography, but modern studies cited below often contain much information on these developments.

General Overviews

To come to grips with the subject, scholars have produced several types of general studies, some scholars give comprehensive coverage (Browe 1967, Bynum 1987, Devlin 1975, Rubin 1991). Others focus on the history and liturgy of the feast (Maurey 2005; Walters, et al. 2006) and its proponents (Mulder-Bakker 2005). Finally, a collection of miscellaneous articles covers various aspects of the Eucharist (Piolanti 1957).

  • Browe, Peter. Die Verehrung der Eucharistie im Mittelalter. Rome: Herder, 1967.

    First published in 1933. An extremely valuable resource for many aspects of Eucharistic devotion, including history of Eucharistic worship, elevation of host and chalice and the details involved, establishment of the feast, processions and their offshoots, and devotions to and display of the host within and outside of the mass.

  • Bynum, Caroline Walker. Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.

    Although not the focus of the book, the Eucharist and Corpus Christi are mentioned throughout and covered in some detail in “A Medieval Change: From Body of Heaven to Broken Body,” pp. 48–69.

  • Devlin, Dennis Steel. “Corpus Christi: A Study in Medieval Eucharistic Theory, Devotion, and Practice.” PhD diss., University of Chicago, 1975.

    A detailed survey of Eucharistic theology and practice from the 9th through the 13th century, with special emphasis on Berengar. The study concludes with a history of the establishment of the feast, together with the popularity of processions, the influence of the Beguines, and the importance of Juliana.

  • Maurey, Yossi. “Music and Ceremony in Saint-Martin of Tours, 1205–1500.” PhD diss., University of Chicago, 2005.

    Survey of music and liturgy at Saint-Martin of Tours, broader than the title implies. Chapter 7 is an extended description of the Eucharistic debates surrounding Berengar, the history of the Corpus Christi feast, celebration of the feast at Tours, and five new prosae composed for the Corpus Christi office hours.

  • Mulder-Bakker, Anneke. Lives of the Anchoresses: The Rise of the Urban Recluse in Medieval Europe. Translated by Myra Heerspink Scholz. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005.

    Two chapters deal with Juliana of Mont Cornillon (“Juliana of Mont Cornillon, Church Reform, and the Corpus Christi Feast,” pp. 78–117) and Eve of St. Martin (“Eve of St. Martin, the Faithful of Liège, and the Church,” pp. 118–147), two women instrumental in establishing the feast of Corpus Christi in Liège. Isabelle of Huy, Juliana’s confidante, also instrumental in promulgating the feast, is mentioned in passing. The feast itself is mentioned often elsewhere.

  • Piolanti, Antonio, ed. Eucaristia: Il mistero dell’Altare nel pensiero e nella vita della Chiesa. Rome and New York: Desclée, 1957.

    An extensive series of articles on all aspects of the history, theology, and rituals of the Eucharist. Contains articles by Cyrille Lambot (“L’ufficio del Ss. Sacramento,” pp. 827–836) and Frédégard Calleay (“Origine e sviluppo della festa del Corpus Domini,” pp. 907–933).

  • Rubin, Miri. Corpus Christi: The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

    One of the most important sources on all aspects of Corpus Christi. Begins with a summary of the history from 1000, the establishment of the feast in the 13th century, and later elaborations (processions, plays). Processions are covered on pp. 243–271 (see “Corpus Christi Processionals”), and dramatic cycles on pp. 271–287 (see “Corpus Christi Drama”).

  • Walters, Barbara R., Vincent Corrigan, and Peter T. Rickets. The Feast of Corpus Christi. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006.

    The book is divided into three sections: Social and intellectual history of the founding of the feast in Liège; critical editions (texts, translations, music) of the seven earliest liturgical sources; and a critical edition and translation of the Mosan Psalter, poetry generated by the same circle of women who promoted the feast.

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