In spite of the continued popularity of the annual Corpus Christi procession it can no longer match the pomp and
pageantry of the ceremony as witnessed by Nicolas Pike, American consul in 1866. The following excerpts are taken from his book ‘Sub-Tropical Rambles in the Land of theAphanapteryx’:
‘From earliest morn the bells of the Cathedral and Church of the Immaculée Conception ring out loudly to call all devout Catholics to the services of the
day. It is a general holiday; all public offices are closed.
Towards noon crowds pour up the different thoroughfares to the Cathedral, which is decked outside with greenery, and the large cross facing it hung with
garlands, and the steps to it covered with bouquets.
Rows of palm and cocoa-nut leaves are carried up Government Street, and continued to the top of the Champ de Mars, where an altar is erected under a sort
The police keep the way clear from carriages, and after considerable trouble the procession begins.
Flies of women of every shade, from tawny to black, crowned with wreaths of roses, or white veils, or both proceed leisurely up the street; delicate fair
girls, dressed in the prettiest costumes, veiled, booted, all in pure white, but in a shower of ribbons and flowers that flutter down from the silken embroidered banners they bear.
Very small fairies, aptly termed ‘Les Anges’, trip along, carrying baskets of flowers, and they also wear dainty white satin shoes. I was told that only
a few years ago a number of little children, chosen from the best families, were always present, dressed in a white gauzy texture with wings, and their pretty little feet bare. Heat and fatigue and often a heavy
shower wetting them through caused such severe illnesses that generally one or more fell victims to the cruel practice, so it has happily been abandoned.
The children of the different Catholic girls’ school are there in great force with their teachers, all in white; but each pension has its own peculiar
colour for ribbons, trimming, etc . . . The boys’ schools muster also, dressed in their best.
All the nuns and priests of Port-Louis, the Catholic soldiers of the different regiments and crowds of spectators fill up the procession.
In the centre, under a heavy gold embroidered canopy, supported by four gentlemen, walks Monseigneur, bearing the sacred burden with uplifted hands.
Little boys, in flowing garments, hover round him swinging censers that send forth clouds of incense at intervals. The band of the regiment is in attendance, and plays the most solemn music; and as they cease, the
strains are caught up by the priests, and an especial service is chanted nearly the whole way, occassionally joined in by everyone.
Slowly they reach the altar at the head of the Champ de Mars; file after file passes, humbly saluting the raised Cross, and they descend the avenue of
palm-leaves in the centre.
By the time Monseigneur arrives at the altar the vast plain is filled with spectators, mostly on foot. As soon as the Bishop prostrates himself before
the Cross, a suppressed murmur sweeps through the crowd announcing the fact; a sudden halt takes place, and down on their knees go the whole assembled multitude.
Silence the most profound reigns, as Monseigneur kisses and holds up the Host. Turning to face the crowd, he appeared to be pronouncing a blessing, but,
of course, too indistinct to be heard far off. Every male head is uncovered, unless a few not of this faith should be there, and they are instantly conspicuous by the erect posture and hatted head.
After kneeling some time, they rise with a triumphant song of praise that resounds to the farthest limits of the Champ de Mars.
All return down the central avenue to the Cathedral, and often the ceremony is not over till quite dark .
Formerly the moment the Host was raised, guns were fired from the roof of the Cathedral, but this custom is now dispensed with.’
Nowadays the celebration of the Fête Dieu has remained essentially the same, except that it is on a much smaller scale and divested of much of the pomp
and pageantry that used to surround it.
The Fête Dieu is no longer a public holiday, but an ‘optional leave’ day for Christians. The procession is therefore sometimes held on the following
Sunday, and often takes place in the morning.