The Corpus Christi celebration has been a Taranto tradition since 1943, and the festival with colorful sawdust carpets returned on Sunday after the pandemic caused a brief hiatus for the past two years.
This year, hundreds of people participated in the creation of 17 religious works of art made of stained sawdust and displayed in the parking lot of the Church of the Holy Martyrs in Taranto. The tradition dates back to the Black Forest of Germany, and this is the 78th year that Taranto has celebrated. It is meant to symbolize a celebration of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
Participants included local residents, families and parishioners who worked on sawdust mats throughout the morning and into the afternoon.
Andrew Smay traveled with his wife and four children to Tarentum from Wheeling, W.Va., to create a rug. His grandmother was born on 11th Avenue a few blocks from Holy Martyrs Church and he said his children were the fifth generation in his family to participate in the Corpus Christi celebration.
The Smay family rug featured a pelican pecking and bleeding to feed its chicks. Above is an image of the Eucharist. Smay said it is an allegory of Christ sacrificing himself to provide food for parishioners. His family wanted to depict a pelican because their home parish features a pelican in stained glass.
Other rugs included Catholic symbols like goblets, crosses, and hymns. Each rug measures 12 feet by 15 feet. Throughout the day, the rugs are wetted with a hose to prevent the artwork from drying out and blowing away.
John Gulick of Lower Burrell lived across the street from the church and said he first attended the celebration 60 years ago.
“They’re always nice to put this festival back together, and people seem to be into it,” Gulick said.
Tom Babinsack of Natrona Heights is the church’s business manager and said he was surprised by the number of attendees. He said the number of carpets was double organizers’ expectations, and he was happy to see the festival succeed after local churches like Holy Martyrs banded together in Guardian Angel Parish.
“It’s important to remember our heritage,” Babinsack said. “And to pass the torch to the new parish to carry on this tradition.”
In addition to Catholic prisoners, other locals and art lovers were drawn to the event.
Chris Martin from New Kensington has visited the Sawdust Carpets several times. She said she was always amazed by the level of detail achieved by the participants. She is not Catholic but said she enjoys the religious aspect and the art of the rugs.
“I hope they continue to do this for years to come,” Martin said.
Tom Due from Taranto volunteered to help wet the mats and help attendees with supplies. He said Artcraft Wood Products in Pittsburgh donated the sawdust. Volunteers dyed sawdust all the colors of the rainbow earlier in the week.
Due’s children are members of the church and he created a mat on Sunday. He said rug making becomes a social event and usually grandparents, parents and children make rugs together.
“It’s a multi-generational thing,” Due said. “With the break, we weren’t sure that would happen. So it was important enough to be here.
A service followed the completion of the mats on Sunday afternoon. Afterwards, the priests followed a procession on the carpets, while the parishioners sang hymns.
After the service, the carpets must be removed, as is the religious tradition.
Due said a street sweeper would come in late Sunday or early Monday to clean the sawdust mats from the parking lot.