Friday, July 26, 2013

Santa Maddelena

July 22 is the Feast Day of Santa Maddelena, and since she is the patroness of the small village of Atrani on the Amalfi Coast, the villagers pull out all stops to give her a huge party. The piazza and church are festooned with lights - the more garish the better - a marching band is hired, and FIREWORKS arranged.


On the Feast Day the lovely old Church of Santa Maddalena is open for mass - and confession - all day. In the evening the effigy of the saint is taken from her post in the church, where she has been surrounded by luxuriant flowers and many candles, and is carried on the shoulders of the village's strongest on a long parade around the all the village streets. The priest and various religious acolytes march with her, the band plays along, and most of the population follows steadily in her wake - except for the more irreligious, who are already having their dinner at the restaurants on the piazza. The head of the comitato - the organising committee - walks in pride of place behind the saint carrying her banner.

When the parade finally wends to its conclusion, everyone gathers in the piazza for a few words from the priest, some musical numbers from the band, and to party on while awaiting midnight. The car park by the seashore is thronged with vendors selling balloons, snacks and cheap plastic children's toys. The town parties.

At midnight, finally, the grande finale: firework erupt from the sea, where they were set in the morning on barges, the breakwater and special floating buoys. Since the pride of the village depends upon a fine display, a fine display we get.

The complete name of Santa Maddalena's church in Atrani is the Collegiate Church of St. Mary Magdalene Penitent. It is one of the largest churches in Atrani, a small town of many churches, some dating back to the medieval days of the Doges of the Amafi Republic.
[The church] ...was founded in 1274 on the ruins of a medieval fortress on the initiative of Atrani. Over time the church has undergone considerable restoration. In 1570, near collapse, funds were raised by special taxes on wheat and export of manufactured goods to restore the church. The building underwent a second operation almost a century later, in 1669....In 1753, as the population grew the church was enlarged and expanded by donations from private citizens...It was during this work that the fortress was finally demolished in order to free up additional space enlargement. In recent times, it was renovated by the architect Lorenzo Casalbore of Salerno. The temple is decorated with two transepts. One ceiling is covered externally with tiles; the other has a flat roof. There are numerous statues and paintings placed in various side chapels: The Madonna shepherdess (famous sculpture of 1789) and The Incredulity of St. Thomas (work of the 16th century Salerno Andrea Sabatini). The facade of the church is considered "the only example of Rococo on the Amalfi Coast". The terrace of the sacristy overlooks the Gulf of Salerno as the Belvedere of Villa Cimbrone. The bell tower, with its brown tuff, is reminiscent of the Madonna del Carmine in Naples. (source)
Santa Maddalena waits in the church for her outing.
There she goes!
But who is Santa Maddalena that she should merit such a great Feast and such a venerable church? The Atrani priest coyly described her as 'Jesus' friend.' According to the gospels, she could be considered a female apostle, since she followed Jesus around just like his twelve male companions. She was there at the two greatest moments of Jesus' life, his crucifixion and his resurrection. She was the only one (excepting John the Beloved) who stayed to the bitter end when he was crucified - all the other Apostles ran away. She was also the first to find his open tomb and to see the resurrected Christ, and to recognise him. She took the news to the others. She is described a "the second-most important woman" in the New Testament (after Jesus' mother, of course, which is only right, as Italians know); and if you count all the references to her in the Gospels, she mentioned more often than any other one apostle.

Maddalena, or Mary Magdalene as she is also known, has also been cast as a prostitute, a rather earthy interpretation, possibly appended since she was a female who followed Jesus around. Nevertheless, if we take the Gospels as historical record and we have any thoughts that perhaps Jesus was married (and there was news of this claim recently from scholars), the Santa Maddalena is surely a front runner for the position of 'wife'. Here's Wikipedia's take on her life.

Worth a fine feast, indeed.

Following the saint through the piazza.
Vendors join the party atmosphere.

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