HOLY WEEK IN SICILY

Friday, March 22, 2013

Over the Easter period in Sicily every town and village has its own particular procession on Good Friday representing the Passion of Christ and the Madonna Adolorata.

 

The list is long but here we will just mention the most important ones in order of importance.   If you are in the area over this period then they are really worth going to see.

 

I Misteri in Trapani

 

 

One of the sacred representation 'vara'

 

This is the oldest Good Friday procession in Sicily.  Brought by the Spanish 400 years ago during their occupation of the island and called Las Casazas.   The procession starts at 2.00p.m on Friday and finishes 24 hours later.   20 sacred representations, called varas, of the death and passion of Christ, and also episodes from the Old and New Testament, are carried through the main streets of the city of Trapani, starting from the Chiesa delle Anime del Purgatorio.

 

All the statues on the ‘vara’ were made by local artisans in the 17th and 18th centuries and, apart from restoration work over the years, they are kept as near as possible to the originals.   The sculptured figures made from wood are dressed in costumes from the Spanish period rather than from biblical times and are also said to represent notable people from the same era too.   The statues are fixed to their base on the vara in such a way that they sway a little as they are being carried through the streets, making the sharp street corners a lot easier to negotiate.

 

The varas are carried by 7 bearers at the front and 7 bearers at the back who all come from different confraternities.   The extreme honour and privilege of being able to help carry one of the varas in this procession goes to those who offer the most money at an ‘auction’ held on Palm Sunday.   The money is then devolved to charities and worthy causes.

 

La Festa dei Guidei, San Fratello (Messina)

 

 

The 'Happy' Jews of San Fratello

 

This particular Good Friday celebration is rather different from the one above and the origin of it has been lost in time.   Not even the locals really know how it originated.   The ‘Giudei’ or ‘Jews’ run through the streets of San Fratello (in the Province of Messina) for the entire Holy Week, blowing their trumpets and generally disturbing everyone, even the religious celebrations being held during the week.    Some say that the Giudei represent the Jewish population who, according to an ancient anti-semitic tradition,  were responsible for the death of Jesus.   But also, according to a more popular belief, they represent noisy but happy devils wearing their colourful red and yellow costumes embroidered with pearls and gold braid epaulettes.   On their heads is a helmet and mask which has a long black tongue sewn on with a cross embroidered at the end of it.    The black tongue represents the demons’ mendacious character.

 

These ‘happy’ Giudei add a bittersweet aura to the Holy Week celebrations of the Passion of Christ, in San Fratello.   As they go around the town visiting the trattorias, caffes and private homes, the Giudei are offered wine and homemade cakes which are thought to bring good luck and ward off the demons.

 

The Three Thousand Hooded Brethren of Enna

 

 

One of the Hooded Brethren

 

Again, the celebrations last all week in the town of Enna (the highest town in the centre of Sicily).   Starting on Palm Sunday the different confraternities parade from their own churches to the cathedral.   The town band accompanies them playing funeral marches.

 

On Good Friday at 7.00p.m., led by three thousand hooded brethren from all the confraternities, dressed in capes of different colours, the solemn procession with the Madonna called Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows and the Urn of the Dead Christ as well as a cross containing a reliquiary of the crown of thorns, are all slowly carried to the cemetery.   The torchlit procession then returns through the town to the cathedral.   On Easter Sunday the Risen Christ and Our Lady are reunited in the Cathedral Square.

 

This celebration of the Passion of Christ is regarded by the Regione Siciliana (local government) as the most important on the island and even finances it every year.

 

These are just three of the Easter celebrations on the island.  But wherever you are during Holy Week in Sicily, you can experience a different Good Friday procession in every town and village,  all of which are very dramatic and heartfelt by the local population.

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