Holy Week in Sicily, the celebrations you should not miss

Scicli U Gioia
“What is a religious festival in Sicily? It would be easy to answer that it’s everything, but a religious celebration. first of all, it’s an existential explosion, the explosion of the collective id, in a land where the community exists at its own id level only.  Since it is only during celebrations that Sicilian people leave their state of “one man” , which is then the condition of their vigilant and painful super-ego, and lastly feel as a part of a class, of a city.”

“There is no place, in Sicily, where the Passion of Christ would not come alive through a real representation, where real people or statuary groups change streets and squares into a stage full of drama, where playing betrayal, murder and the pain of a mother.

But is it really the drama of the son of God who became man, what is actually performed, in the Sicilian countries, on Good Friday?
Or is it not rather the drama of a hurt humanity, betrayed by his neighbor, murdered by the law? Or, at last, it is not even this, and is it only the drama of a mother, the drama of the Lady of Sorrows? ”

Leonardo Sciascia, “Feste religiose in Sicilia” pictures by Ferdinando Scianna, 1965.

Holy Week in Trapani. The Procession of the Mysteries

Rites, processions, religious services that combine faith, traditions and even folklore, characterize the week preceding Easter. Short palm processions in the churches, during Palm Sunday, start the rituals. Tuesday is the day of the procession of Our Lady of Sorrows’ picture called Madonna dei Massari, which, on Wednesday afternoon, meets the Madonna del Popolo’s effigy.

On Holy Thursday every church are adorned with the so-called “sepulchres”, richly decorated altars recalling the Last Supper. But the climax of these celebrations is the evocative and exciting Procession of the Mysteries in Trapani, performed by 18 statuary groups, dating back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, made of wood and clothes kneaded with glue, evoking episodes of the passion of Christ. All statues are followed by Jesus in the urn and by the statue of Our Lady of Sorrows . The sculptures are entrusted to the members of the local Guilds who carry them over their shoulders, during the longest of all Sicilian Processions: from Friday afternoon (around 2 pm) until Saturday morning. (source turismo.trapani.it)

Good Friday in Erice. The Procession of the Mysteries

On Good Friday the “Misteri” parade all along the narrow streets of Erice. It deals of four 18th century wooden statuary groups, covered with cloth and glue, depicting episodes of the passion of Christ. Behind them, the statue of the buried Jesus followed by the wooden statue of Our Lady of Sorrows (16th century). Starting from the church of San Giuliano, where they are kept all year round, they are carried in procession in a truly evocative atmosphere, sealed by the mourning music that resounds throughout the streets and by the crowds following them. (source turismo.trapani.it)

Holy Thursday in Marsala. The Via Crucis

One of the most defining Holy Week rituals in the area of Trapani  is the Via Crucis held on Holy Thursday, that is performed by living characters walking along the main streets of Marsala, playing their roles with great pathos. How do not mention the dramatic moments when Jesus falls under the weight of the cross! And the touching Crucifixion re-enactment takes taking place on the same evening! The Good Friday procession with the statue of Our Lady of Sorrows following the dead Christ is very popular and attracts a multitude of people (source turismo.trapani.it)

Holy Week in Enna

The Holy Week of Enna is one of the most spectacular and full of pathos processions of the world. On Good Friday more than 2,500 frat brothers are involved in this event, together with the City council and the Clergy. Inside the 16 churches, headquarters of confraternities, the brothers prepare all objects that will be carried in procession. The Holy Week of Enna has a rich history fraught with symbols related to old customs and traditions that have been handed down for centuries, even dating back to the Spanish domination. One of these symbols is the habit of covering the brothers’ face with their hoods, once forbidden in the past. A marching band accompanies the processions playing sad music, composed musicians from Enna.

Pietraperzia. Lu Signuri di li fasci

Since the early hours of Good Friday morning, in the church of Maria SS. del Soccorso, well known as “Carmine”, preparations are underway for the evening procession.

The protagonist of “lu Signuri di li fasci” is a cypress wood beam, ending in a cross.

This beam, including the “Vara”, is 8.50 meters high. It is carried outside of the Chiesa del Carmine at sunset where it lays, in the churchyard, in a horizontal position.
Therefore, a circular metal structure is affixed to the top of the beam. Shortly afterwards all faithful tie up to this circle some white linen strips, approximately 32 meters long and 40 centimeters wide. To tie his band any faithful has to show an entry ticket that allows the counting of the strips. The purpose of these bands is to allow devotees to keep the long wooden beam in balance along the long procession.

Meanwhile, inside the church, another traditional rite, whose origins are unknown, takes place: a member of the confraternity spends the whole afternoon by laying on the body of the Crucifix some red ribbons, called “misureddi” (small measures ) that, once blessed by this contact, are bound to devotees’ forearms or ankles.

With a touching passage from one hand to another (“a ppassamànu”) the confreres carry outside the church the ancient and miraculous Crucifix, while praying and shouting the short prayer: “Pietà e Misericordia, Signuri”. (My Lord, have mercy on me)

Immediately after, the Crucifix will be placed on the large cross for the spectacular “rise-up”.

This prayer will be repeated in procession by the “Vara” carriers every time they are urged by a double hammer-stroke to put the heavy load again on their shoulders.

At the foot of Christ on the cross is placed a colored glass globe, the symbol of the world and its diversities, dominated by Christ’s saving Grace.

This globe is internally illuminated by 4 lamps that make its polychrome stand out

PIETRAPERZIA – ph Erminio Gattuso



PIETRAPERZIA – ph Erminio Gattuso

San Fratello. The Feast of the Jews

In San Fratello, in the province of Messina, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, the Jewish festival takes place shrouded in a mixture of sacred and profane rites.
The origin of this tradition dates back to the Middle Ages and it expresses both faith and folklore coexisting in perfect symbiosis.

It began in 1276 with a small group of strange characters called “Brotherhood of Flagellants”, that today are more numerous and known as Jews. Their colorful clothing is varied and strange, as strange are their behavior and unbridled acts.
They wear red jackets and trousers, adorned with differently colored strips of cloth on both sides.
Their head is completely covered by a red hood similar to a mask from where a large tongue of shiny skin dangles that, together with a large mouth and two very long eyebrows, gives the mask a grotesque and monstrous aspect. The Jews’ shoes are in raw leather or fur and bunches of wide-meshed chains and trumpets hang from their hands

During two whole days San Fratello goes crazy: the Jews, run, cross roads, climb the walls, walk in a dangerous balance on the edges of houses and balconies, jump, play, flee and disappear, creating a true, deafening pandemonium, and, sometimes, even making people scared.

Easter at Prizzi. The Devils’ dance

“U Ballu di diavuli” (Devils’ dance) is a folkloristic-religious tradition related to the Easter events taking place in Prizzi, in Palermo area.

Its origins are probably from the Middle Age and it shows clear evidences of old pagan celebrations focused upon the triumph of life, the rebirth of vegetation, at the beginning of spring.

Since Easter morning, some masked devils in a red suit togheter with the Death, wearing a typical yellow-ochre dress, prowl the village streets undisturbed, playing tricks and “catching” passers-by who will be released only in return for donations (money or sweets).

In the afternoon the event reaches its peak when the devils try to hinder the meeting between the statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary that are expected to get to the main square. But the angels escorting the two statue oppose this evil effort: this struggle, made up of specific rhythmic movements, is called “dance of the devils”. Once the devils are defeated, the risen Christ and the Virgin Mary can finally rejoin and good triumphs over evil.

Easter in Modica. The Madonna Vasa Vasa

During Easter Sunday the Feast of Our Lady Vasa Vasa (kiss, kiss) takes place too,  an unmissable must for locals and visitors which overrun Modica downtown.  The main street can hardly accommodate the crowd of followers  moving TO  the church of Santa Maria di Betlem to see the traditional “Bacio di mezzoggiorno” (noon kiss) between the Virgin Mary and the Risen Christ. Before this reunion, Our Lady and Christ, carried over the faithful  shoulders,  look for each other throughout the main street.

Scicli. Feast of the Living Man, U Gioia

U Gioia (our joy), the Easter feast taking place in Scicli, is one of the most beautiful Easter celebration in Sicily. At the end of the Easter week , the mournful atmospheres are wiped out by the festive atmosphere that awakens the spirits of the sciclitani (Scicli’s inhabitans) involving everyone in a lively procession taking men and things in a cloud of sounds and colors. Thats the Feast of the Umu Vivu (Living Man) or “U Gioia”.

The magic of Easter in Scicli has always enchanted many painters, photographers, journalists and musicians. Vinicio Capossela is among the best known artists to have experienced it. The songwriter in fact wrote the song Uomo vivo (Hymn to Joy) inspired by this Celebration where he was closely involved among bearers and devotees and singing in the main square. (source www.visitvigata.com)

Easter in Piana degli Albanesi

Easter rites in Piana degli Albanesi are very evocative. The old traditions and habits, the characteristic richly embroidered women’s costumes and even the language clearly reveal the place’s belonging to the Albanian ethnicity and tradition, have continued  for more than 500 years. The marvelous Easter Mass, celebrated according to the Byzantine Rite, expresses the locals unchanged identity and their deep cultural roots.

Holy Week in Caltanissetta

In Caltanissetta the Holy Week is characterized by particular rites. The Holy Thursday tradition arose around 1700 with the procession of the small Vare called Misteri, like the mystery of the Passion of Christ

The procession has undergone changes and evolutions over time both in its itinerary and in the number of Statues symbolizind the Way of the Cross, that today are 16 after adding the Addolorata (Our Lady of Sorrows) and the Sacred Urn. These groups of statues are made of wood and papier-mâché and were realized by Biangardi father and son, being commissioned by some ancient social classes from Caltanissetta (bakers, miners…) and by different brotherhoods.

On Thursday evening the “vare”, decorated with flowers and fruits, reach the main square at sunset, followed by music bands from all over Sicily.
The procession goes through every street of the historical center until late at night, when it comes back to Piazza Garibaldi, where the last act takes place: the “Spartenza”, that is the separation of the “vare”.

The evening of Good Friday in Caltanissetta is the time of mourning and silence. From the ancient church “Lord of the City”, located in the popular district of San Francesco, a wooden Crucifix, probably from the 15th century, is carried in procession: It is the Black Christ (Black Christ) so named for its dark color, deeply worshipped by all citizens.

Tradition says  that the Crucifix was found in a cave in the same disctrict, by two “fogliamari”, wild herbs pickers, and that the devotion towards it quickly spread so much to make it “the Lord of the city”. The “fogliamari”, which today belong to all social classes, wear a purple tunic and, barefoot as a sign of penitence, carry the gilded wooden crown guarding the Black Christ on their shoulders ,while all around everybody tune the ladate, lamentations in archaic Sicilian dialect.

The procession is followed by all the maestranze (craftmen representatives) dressed in mourning garments, led by the bishop and behind him the clergy, nuns, monks, confraternities and religious congregations. The Black Christ is followed by a large crowd, mostly barefoot, to free themselves from their vow or to pray for good graces. (fonte Pro Loco Caltanissetta)

Easter in Sinagra. Race of San Leone

‘A Cursa’ i Santu Liu (Race of Saint Leo) has been the symbol of Easter Sunday in Sinagra for ages. The Patron Saint’s statue is carried over the devotees’ shoulders during a slow and long procession that starts from the Church of San Leone, located in the countryside. As the afternoon falls, at the entrance of the village, the pace of the procession suddenly changes ending with a characteristic final onward rush to the Main Church . The initial slow pace of the procession symbolizes Leone’s hesitancy to go back to Catania, the seat of his episcopacy, while the final race represents his choice to remain with the people of Sinagra. That’s a very evocative event that every year attracts thousands of visitors that join to the local people which honor their patron saint enthusiastically . The celebrations continue on Easter Monday with the procession of the Saint throughout the streets of the village and with the typical “Easter Monday Fair”.

Easter Arches in San Biagio Platani

The “Archi di Pasqua” (Easter Arches) Festival is the spectacular and fascinating outcome of an artistic-craft contest, that’s quite unique in Sicily. Weeks before Easter, the “Madunnara brotherhood” (the Virgin Mary devotees) and the “Signurara” confraternity  (Jesus devotees), work actively on impressive cane-structures construction projects that will be the frame of magnificent artistic decorations made with citrus, bay leaves and bread in all sorts of shapes and sizes. The majestic artistic works – arches, domes, and bell towers – will be then placed along Corso Umberto I, San Biagio Platanis main street. The astonishingly refined decorations, combined with the night-time lighting, make this nice village in the area of Agrigento, into a sumptuous and welcoming open-air lounge. The reunion between the Risen Christ and his Mother Mary, taking place on Easter Sunday in front of the Main Church, is the defining moment of the event.

Easter in Caltagirone. ‘A Giunta

Easter Sunday in Caltagirone is a big, popular open-air festival that takes place throughout the city streets.

It consists of two epic points “A Giunta” (the encounter) and “A Spartenza” (the separation), during which the three simulacra of San Pietro, the Risen Christ and the Virgin Mary meet together and then separate again.

Thousands of local people and tourists gather in every corner of Piazza Municipio, and the Staircase Santa Maria del Monte becomes an immense parterre where everyone claim a place to look at the event. “A Giunta, certainly the most significant and spectacular moment of the Feast, is the arriving point of a precise route: St. Peter, after leaving the church of the same name, within short distance  meets the Risen Christ with immense joy and, passing through Via Infermeria and crossing Piazza Umberto, they head to  Piazza Municipio – the real stage of the ancient reunion – to give the joyful message to Virgin Mary. The name “A Giunta” takes after this reunion.  (Source Comune di Caltagirone official page)

Easter in Petralia Sottana. U ‘Ncuontru

The Holy Week in Petralia Sottana reaches the highest moment of public emotions during the joyful and touching “Ncuontru” (the encounter), on Easter Sunday Noon. Since the early morning, the bells chime festively announcing Jesus Christ’s Resurrection. This is the time when the Brotherhoods get ready for wearing their traditional costumes. The statue of the Virgin, still cloaked in black, is carried over the shoulders by the Brotherhood of SS. Rosario, while the Brotherhood of the SS. Sacrament has the honor to carry the simulacrum of the Risen Christ. The two statues are carried in procession throughout the old town, along different routes, and then have a stop at the fixed points: the “Chianu” and “u Culleggiu”, where they wait for the sound of the firecrackers and the signal from the Master of Ceremonies: three trumpet blasts and three shots. The Risen Christ and the Virgin Mary begin to move, glimpse to each other  and they finally run into each other. The Mother recognizes her Son and leaves her veil of pain. Mother and Son hug each other among applauses, tears of emotion, flights of white doves, sounds of firecrackers and the music of the band. An engaging, joyful, liberating ceremony, almost a good luck ritual. Immediately afterwards, the two statues, one facing the other, so that they can look at each other, cross the old town and go back to the Main Church. (source Ufficio turistico Comune di Petralia Sottana)

Good Friday in Barrafranca. U’ Tronu

The Procession of the Crucifix “U Tronu” (the Throne) is the most awaited moment of Good Friday in Barrafranca, in the area of Enna.

Late in the evening, when all liturgical celebrations end, the procession of the Holy Crucifix begins. The locals call it “U Tronu”, after the device lifts the simulacrum, when  leaving the church. The fercolo (the sedan on which it lays) is supported by two “baiarde” (wooden beams), numbered from 1 to 100, to indicate  the position of each carrier.

The Crucifix is ​​covered with hundreds of golden ex-votos given by the faithful over the years, and it lays in the center of the “Sphere”, an oval wooden structure that, just before the procession, is placed inside the “World”, a larger sphere laying on the top of a two meters high trunk.
The Statue of Our Lady of Sorrows and the Urn of the Dead Christ leave the churches where they are usually kept, they head to the Main Church and join the procession of the Crucifix.
Once they reach “U Tronu”, the procession, headed by the Urn of the Dead Christ begins, followed by the “lament singers”, the Addolorata with San Giovanni, the band and finally the “Tronu”.

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