By Kristin Fox
This past weekend, St Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Franklin continued a tradition it started 17 years ago, the creation of beautiful sawdust carpets in celebration of the church festival Corpus Christi. Corpus Christi is a Catholic feast day that celebrates the belief in the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist.
This year, parishioners of all ages created 25 sawdust carpets representing different images and symbols representing the Catholic church. Each carpet is a unique work of art and worship. Each carpet is an image carefully created by hand, so no two carpets are the same.
St. Francis is one of three churches in the United States to create the Alfombras de Aserrín, or sawdust carpets, during Corpus Christi. Sawdust carpets originated hundreds of years ago and are often attributed to the feast of Corpus Christi in Spain. The tradition was brought to the Americas by the Spanish and is still found in Mexico, Central America and parts of South America and the United States. The tradition began at St. Francis when a former parishioner who was from Pennsylvania started the event similar to what was done at the church he grew up in.
The process begins a week before the event with the coloring of the sawdust. For the last 10 years, Trull Forest Products, Inc. of Franklin has provided the church with the sawdust for the carpets. Taking at least six hours, a crew of volunteers from the church colors the sawdust using a cement mixer to mix the sawdust and the color dye. After each color batch of sawdust has been created, it sits in bags to dry out for the creation of the carpets the following Sunday. This year, the volunteers dyed 10 colors of sawdust for the carpet creators to use in their designs.
Work on the carpets begins immediately after Sunday Mass on the feast day. The creation of the carpets then begins with a large grid drawn in chalk using a wood frame for each carpet. Each carpet is 8 feet by 16 feet and is formed in a line one after the other from the back entrance to the church and around the parking lot. Each creator of a carpet chooses his or her design and colors to be used in the carpet. Over the next several hours, the group creates their sawdust carpet, sketching in their design in their designated carpet area and then “coloring” or filling in the design with the colored sawdust.
The sawdust celebration has been under the direction of parishioners Bill Richards for many years and more recently Jose Soto. Richards and Soto spend many hours organizing the event, recruiting volunteers and making sure all needed supplies are ready for the event.
Once the carpets are created, the church gathers in the church for prayers and then a procession along the carpet route around the church. The celebration concludes with benediction in the church. After the procession, the sawdust carpets are swept away, and the colorful sawdust is repurposed as mulch around the church grounds.
Just like that, in a matter of a few minutes, the beautiful designs are gone, trampled to pieces by hundreds of feet. The many hours of work spent creating the carpets are a labor of love. The sawdust carpets are offered up for God, an act of love created by the parishioners of St. Francis.