The Seventh Bootsnall prompt is "Celebrate" - as in, join in a celebration while on your travels:
Joining in a local festival, holiday or special event is a great way to learn more about a local culture. Share the story of a celebration that meant something to you on your travels.
This one invites me to reminisce about the festas of Southern Italy - most recently I posted about the Chestnut Festa, since chestnuts are in season. In July the religious festas were in full swing, and it was both fun and fascinating to become part of the village for the festa. Even sitting through a two hour Mass was absorbing - watching the rituals and the people. An Italian friend was surprised, and said "you don't speak Italian and you're not even Catholic?" But I felt very privileged to be granted a peek into private village life: they don't put on these shows for tourists.
But perhaps the most startling religious feast I saw celebrated - if that's the right word - was the Easter Friday parade in Trapani, a small town on the west coast of Sicily. And the effort of the neighbouring town of Marsala was impressive in its won way. Here's a recap if you missed the original post:
|Misteri di Trapani|
I spent Good Friday this year in the towns of Trapani and Marsala in Western Sicily. All over southern Italy, towns large and small hold processions through the streets, usually bearing a life-sized figure of Christ in one of the stages of his Easter passion (the processions have Spanish origins and similar procession occur there too). It is community occasion, but also a funeral procession, and a deeply serious thing for the people. In Sicily, they do dark and tragic very well, and nowhere is this more evident than in their Good Friday processions. In Trapani, they have been doing their “Procession of the Mysteries” – Misteri di Trapani – since at least 1612.
|The dolorous statues kept coming.|
I watched, quite transfixed, as the first of the statues emerged from the church porch, inched over to one of the ecclesiastical gents, paused for a blessing, then slowly processed off down a side street. Each statue was not only carried by a large entourage of men, but was also accompanied by its own 40 or 50 piece band, a bevy of strange religious acolytes (children in red Klu Klux Klan hoods, young girls carrying sheathes of roses, little children with golden wings, serious boys with candles on poles), and – importantly – representatives of various town guilds carrying the banners and insignia of their Guild. It is said that the statues were granted in trust, by deeds, by the Brotherhood of St. Michael the Archangel, which instituted the rite in the late 16th century, to the members of the local Guilds in exchange for the promise to carry them during the passion procession every Good Friday. And a promise made is a promise kept, in Sicily.
Most impressive of all were the men carrying the statues. Each wore a suitably solemn expression, most were in suits and ties, or the uniforms of their guilds. There were young men and old men, all with a bowed-down stance and a long 24 hours ahead.
|A serious business.|
|Works of art.|
It is always difficult to see much from amongst a crowd, but I certainly got a good dose of atmosphere, if no very good photos. The dirge-like band music haunts me still. But by good fortune (rather than good management) I had that morning happened upon another of Trapani’s churches, Sant’Agostino, a 14th century church of the Knights Templar (the only building left in Sicily that is associated with the order). It was badly bombed in WWII, but on this particular Good Friday its claim to fame was that it housed an exhibition of the very wood, straw and canvas statues that are carried in the Easter parade. I was thus able to inspect some of these rather crude but uncannily life-like figures up close. They are traditionally made of light materials so that they are not too heavy to be carried all day.
|The Madonna of Marsala|
And what Madonna she was! The artist had created an epitome of agony. All along the street, as she was carried past, grown men had tears in their eyes, everyone bent their heads and crossed themselves piously, an old lady watching from her balcony wept openly. I was a little aghast. The Madonna had a silver sword piercing her heart! Made the hairs stand up on the nape of my neck, I must say. Very Sicilian – the agony and hardship of all those centuries of oppression transmogrified into their religious observance.
I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get any dinner in Marsala that evening. Everyone was so sad and lachrymose. But in the end, Marsala came through, with the fresh fish I by now demanded. Hopefully everyone would cheer up on Easter Sunday.
|A sad spectator in Marsala.|