The religious traditions of Easter, starting with the Holy Week and Palm Sunday, are eagerly followed in Cefalù.
On Good Friday the touching Solenne Processione (“Solemn Procession”) winds through the city’s streets behind the sacred images of the dead Christ and Mary Our Lady in Sorrow.Palm Sunday focuses on the usual blessing of olive branches and palms, with the latter woven together following an ancient tradition.On Easter Monday (the so-called Pasquetta, “little Easter”) everyone gathers to “satari i vadduna” (jump the torrents), or just to ramble in the countryside.The food on offer is rich and varied: bullock’s meat and grilled sausages are the protagonists, as well as artichokes, sardines and boiled eggs.The locally produced wine – amber in colour and with a decisive taste – is in abundance. And, literally sweeter-than-sweet, the Easter sweets known as pupa cull’uovu are biscuits of various shapes (baskets, lamps, fish, doves) containing whole eggs. These baskets are covered with sugar and then decorated with coloured sugar known as riavulicchi.
During the Easter period, Good Friday (Venerdì Santo) represents the “Search” (‘Cerca’), that is, the Virgin Mary’s hunt for her son. The procession begins at dawn, with people re-enacting the fourteen stations of the Way of the Cross. In the Church of Old Saint Mary (Chiesa di Santa Maria la Vecchia) the confraternities of the Most Holy Cross (Santissimo Crocifisso) gather together in their characteristic dress: a long white tunic, black cape, white hood, gloves, brown socks, sandals and a crown of thorns on their heads. The eldest brothers, recognisable by their uncovered faces, open the procession with the symbol INRI, the Latin initials for Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews. They are followed by another brotherhood playing funerary rhythms on a drum, with all the brothers holding small objects in their hands symbolising Jesus’ sacrifice, and finally by Jesus himself, with a heavy wooden cross, his feet chained, surrounded by Roman soldiers and a few children dressed as angels.
The residents of Enna are divided into confraternities, each having its “spiritual contrada or quarter. Every confraternity has is own hierarchy of officers, church and traditional costume. The week long festival of Processione della Settimana Santa a week-long festival beginning on Palm Sunday when the Collegio dei Rettori (a council of governors) processes to the Duomo to begin celebrations in adoration of the Holy Eucharist. In turn, delegations from each confraternity leave their own churches and converge on the cathedral, followed by bands playing funeral marches.
At noon on the Wednesday of Holy Week, the church bells are removed and the troccola, a special mechanical instrument made of wood, is sounded. The real and proper procession takes place on the evening of Good Friday: hundreds of representatives from the various confraternities, hooded and cloaked in mantles of different colours, process through the streets bearing first the Dead Christ followed by Our Lady of Sorrow, on their shoulders. On Easter Sunday, the two statues are carried back to their respective churches.
In Gangi, Palm Sunday is profoundly rooted in folk religosity, and signals the beginning of the Holy Week. One of its characteristics is the unchanging nature of the ritual over hundreds of years, focused on the Confraternities of the town. Early in the morning they meet in the church of the Confraternity in charge (chosen according to an ancient draw which creates a rigid cyclical order) where they share out the palms (also assigned through a drawing of lots), followed by the laying out of the huge palms that will be carried in procession with flowers, date fronds and sacred symbols, artisanally made from the very same palms. At the same time the brothers get dressed, some in a white tunic covered with a cloak (with a different colour for each confraternity), others with the classic “abitino”, whilst the tamburinara (“drummers”) wear precious Rubriche, 17th century costumes embroidered by hand and using gold and silver. As soon as the preparations are finished, the procession begins. Behind every palm, carried on the shoulders, file the confraternities preceeded by the tamburinara who signals the arrival of the procession. The itinerary through the town makes its first stop at the Mother-Church where the palms are blessed, after which the procession starts again heading for each of the town’s churches. Eventually it ends up back at the Mother-Church where before everyone takes part in Mass, the tamburinara put on a display of rythmic skill whilst the large palms are brought in through the arch of the Mother-Church.
On Good Friday in Gratteri, the confraternities process one behind another. It is from this that the procession gets its name Sulità. Figures of the Cross, of the Ecce Homo, Our Lady in Sorrow and the dead Christ leave from various parts of the town and meet near the Old Matrix (“la matrice vecchia”). As the procession snakes towards the village’s principal route to reach the Church of Saint Michael the Archangel, it is conducted entirely by the light of the candles carried by the brothers. On reaching the church in front, the new Mother-Church (Chiesa Madre nuova), the figures are spread-out into a semi-circle.
The Sagra della Frittella (frittedda in dialect; “Feast of the Fritter”) was born to celebrate the harvest of the first beans and artichokes cooked together with peas and wild fennel. From these ingredients the frittedda was born.The feast is organised at the same time as the Festa del SS. Crocifisso di Santa Maria on the 30th of April. Of course, during the festival there is a chance to taste the frittedda alongwith an excellent local wine.
In April there's the"sagra delle verdura" the locals go into the mountains to collect all the wild greens that can be eaten. The students from the hotel school cook the various vegetables and there are professors that talk about the medicinal and dietary value.
Characteristic religious festivals are held during Easter week. On Easter Sunday – “u ncuontru” is re-enacted where two statues, one of the Virgin Mary and the other of Jesus, carried by the two different confraternities, come running out of two different streets towards each other. The Mother embraces the Son losing her black veil of mourning which causes much emotion amongst the waiting crowd. The traditions of these ancient Christian rites go far back in history and emphasize the delicate mother/son relationship and the importance of the Woman-Mother figure in the local peasant culture.
During the Holy Week (Settimana Santa), the evening of Good Friday sees a moving and suggestive procession through the town’s streets with statues of a few figures depicting moments of the Passion, the dead Christ and Our Lady in Sorrow. The confraternity all wear black robes, a crown on their heads and black gloves.
On the “Urtimu Miercuri”, that is the Seventh Wednesday after Easter, a feast is held in the hermitage of St. Gandolfo, at the foot of the mountains where Polizzi sits. Following a pilgrimage of the previous six Wednesdays, the feast is dedicated to the patron Saint – a Franciscan monk from Binasco (Milan) who arrived in the town in 1260 and died a near saint after having preached during Lent. On the previous evening, the faithful organize a torchlight procession which leaves from Polizzi; on arrival in the little square outside the Church, and to the sound of band, they light a bonfire. On the feast day itself a procession accompanies the priest who carries the reliquiries of the saint from the church to the hermitage. After Mass has been celebrated the believers all rush out into the countryside for a light-hearted escursion. The people of Polizzi are so devoted to their protector saint, Gandolph of Binasco, that they celebrate him a number of times during the year: on the 11th of January, in the Mother-Church (Chiesa Madre), to remember the disaster avoided during the earthquake of 1693, which spread death and ruin through much of Sicily; the Monday of the Angel (Lunedì dell’Angelo) in the Church of San Nicolò de’ Franchis where the saint died; the seventh Wednesday after Easter in the hermitage where it is presumed Gandolph rested to gather his strength before reaching the town; and a final three successive days over the third Sunday of September, in remembrance of his death during Lent, in a period when the liturgy prohibited the celebration of the memory of saints.
In San Mauro the celebration of Easter as both a religious ritual and social event is particularly articulated. It begins in the morning of Palm Sunday with the procession of the religious confraternities and the devout who follow behind showing panarietri and i cori di parma (palm hearts). The Supper of Good Friday (‘a zzèna in dialect) takes place in the Mother-Church of San Giorgio in the late evening. The members of the Santissimo Sacramento (Most Holy Sacrament) confraternity (founded in 1629) lavishly prepare the large table with bread, lettuce, fennel, Easter lamb, and minnulicchi, all foods charged with symbolic meaning. Good Friday begins with the ‘a Visària, a Way of the Cross which winds through some of the town’s streets, along which are placed the Stations of Christ’s Passion, painted on Majolica tiles (1700). During the afternoon there follows the procession of the dead Christ and Our Lady in Sorrow, during which the ’a menza missa and ‘a pirdunanza are practiced. The day finishes with ‘a Scinnuta da’ Cruci, a religious function in the church of Santa Maria de’ Francio.