Friday, November 1, 2013

All Saints and All Souls

Amalfi's cemetery on the hillside.
Hallowe'en in Amalfi was rather a low key affair as far as trick-or-treat or ghoulish decorations go. In fact, I saw not one cobweb or carved pumpkin, and only two or three 'witch' and 'devil' children out looking for goodies - they were very sensibly targeting only the business establishments - the pasticcerias and the fancy hotels.

However, on the hillside above Amalfi the town cemetery was aglow, all of the 21 arches along its long portico illuminated, with lights above as well, and its big cross glowing. The cemetery in Amalfi sits high on the hillside above the town - heaven alone knows how they get the coffins up there - the route is through steep little medieval alleys only wide enough for single-file walking. The cemetery was once a monastery, in competition, presumably, with the Capuchin one on the opposite hill (now a fancy hotel).

The reason for all this lighting, and the influx of locals come home to their village for the weekend, is the advent of All Saints' Day, the 1st of November, followed by All Souls' Day on 2nd. This is the time of year for visiting your dearly departed in the cemeteries. It's a celebration both personal and communal.

Wiki tells us:
The origin of the festival of All Saints celebrated in the West dates to 13 May 609 or 610, when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs; the feast of the dedicatio Sanctae Mariae ad Martyres has been celebrated at Rome ever since... The origin of All Saints' Day cannot be traced with certainty, and it has been observed on various days in different places. However, there are some who maintain the belief that it has origins in the pagan observation of 13 May, the Feast of the Lemures, in which the malevolent and restless spirits of the dead were propitiated....

In all the shops (source)
Wiki again:
In Western Christianity, All Souls' Day, also known as the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed, is observed principally in the Catholic Church, although some churches of Anglican Communion and the Old Catholic Churches also celebrate it; the observance is the third day of Hallowmas and annually occurs on November 2...The official name of the celebration in the Roman Rite liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church is "The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed". Another popular name in English is Feast of All Souls. In some other languages the celebration, not necessarily on the same date, is known as Day of the Dead...Many of these European traditions reflect the dogma of purgatory. For example, ringing bells for the dead was believed to comfort them in their cleansing there, while the sharing of soul cakes with the poor helped to buy the dead a bit of respite from the suffering of purgatory. In the same way, lighting candles was meant to kindle a light for the dead souls languishing in the darkness. Out of this grew the traditions of "going souling" and the baking of special types of bread or cakes. 
All Saints Day coffee
I haven't noticed any special bread baking for the occasion, but Friday 1 November is a pubic holiday in Italy, and there's a little air of festivity about the place. This morning the pasticceria served a generous portion of the local pastry speciality, sfogliatelli, with my caffé. And many of the shops are displaying extra bunches of flowers, particularly chrysanthemums, potted plants, and those all-weather candles that people take to graves.

In special recognition of the occasion, I was referred to a poem written by the popular Italian comic actor Totò (Antonio De Curtis, 1898 - 1967), entitled 'La Livella' ('A Livella' in its original Neapolitan) - a poem about a visitor to the cemetery on il due novembre who witnesses two ghosts rise up from their graves and have an argument - a nobleman, and a humble street sweeper. The nobleman complains that the poor man should not be buried next to him, to which the poor man replies -
mia moglie è stata a fare questa fesseria,
io che potevo fare se ero morto?
...which basically means it was my wife's doing -- what could I do? I was dead!

But the poor man goes on to make the point that everyone is equal after death.

You can read the whole poem on this site in Neapolitan (good luck!) and in Italian. Oh OK, here's a link to the poem in English too.
Ogni anno, il due novembre, c'è l'usanza
per i defunti andare al Cimitero.
Ognuno deve fare questa gentilezza;
ognuno deve avere questo pensiero....
Every year on the 2nd of November,
it is usual for the dead care, to go to the Cemetery.
Everyone should do this present;
Everyone should have this thought...
Or -- you can listen to Totò himself recite it on YouTube.
Happy All Saints and Souls Days.

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