6 aprile 2023
by Lidia Lombardi

Waiting for the Resurrection


In his writings on Italian popular culture (The days of the sacred, Milan, 1982), Franco Cardini said that “Holy Week is a great rite of collective meditation on the mystery and exorcism of death. The more terrible and painful the death of God is, the more likely it is to be soon defeated when Easter bells will toll.”

The more terrible and painful the death of God is, the more likely it is to be soon defeated when Easter bells will toll

Alfredo Cattabiani’s “blood theatricalizations” as he calls them in his Calendar (Milan, 2003) thus occur in northern and especially southern Italy (where suffering has a greater grasp). Where papier-mâché sculptures parade in Trapani for the “Mysteries” and sixteenth-century music by Giulio Dati is the soundtrack of the Good Friday procession in Sordevolo, Vercelli province, a partnership of religiosity, history, art, and words occurs in two locations of central Italy, only a few kilometers apart, but with an Apennine pass between them. These are Gubbio, the city of St. Francis in Umbria, albeit proud of a secular past that made civic authorities the arbiters of social life, and Cantiano, the first Marche municipality on the Via Flaminia, set between mountain gorges and the Burano riverbed and dominated by the Dantean Mount Catria, where sour cherries bloom in the spring, which produce the famous jam.

Cantiano was hit by the fury of a flood last September. Thus, the sacred reenactment that will take place on Friday, April 7, will serve as a sign of rebirth after the mourning and devastation. The tumultuous waters that took human lives also damaged the costumes and stage accessories of the Dead Christ theatricalization. Therefore, in these last days before the renewed debut, seamstresses and young helpers work through the night to sew the new clothes for the reenactors, as we are told by the Municipality of the Marche region. The wooden stage settings have mostly survived, have been cleaned of the mud, and are ready to be reused. The audience bleachers were checked for safety. The work is done with a pang in the heart thinking about those who have been lost, but also with the pride of a community used to rolling up its sleeves, while remembering the cornerstones of one’s tradition.

Gubbio and Cantiano are set apart by a provincial road called Contessa, less than thirty minutes by car, so that Cantiano used to be in the same diocese as Gubbio, which began to celebrate Christ’s Passion and Death with a procession in the thirteenth century and still does to this day. At the same time, Cantiano engages all the inhabitants from dawn to night on Good Friday with a reenactment called Turba, spreading across squares and churchyards and culminating on Sant'Ubaldo hill, transformed into the Golgotha by three crosses planted on top of the year’s first grass.

Both events bear the sign of lay penitential movements from the Middle Ages. The brotherhoods of ardent faithfuls who hated the splendor of the Church and opposed it with a life of poverty, suffering, and dedication to others, found in St. Francis their brightest standard-bearer. The Saint of Assisi stayed for a long time in Gubbio, the site of the miracle of the wolf, and preached in the bordering Marche region. Thus, the Miserere chant and the lugubrious sound of the battistrangole, a wooden instrument struck with iron handles on either side, characterize both events.

Thus, the Miserere chant and the lugubrious sound of the battistrangole, a wooden instrument struck with iron handles on either side, characterize both events

The Santa Croce della Foce brotherhood curates the Gubbio procession. When evening sets, Gubbio lights up with torches. Fire symbolizes purification and asking God for forgiveness. Bonfires are lit in Piazza San Pietro, Via Dante, and Largo San Marziale, at which ancient stones, merlons, and the gates of noble palaces sparkle. On this stage parade the Sacconi, characters dressed in rough cloth that characterize the Brotherhood. They show the symbols of the Passion, a skull, referring to the Golgotha, and the statues of the Dead Christ and Mary of Sorrows. Two choirs sing the Miserere in two voices. With prayers, crackling fires, the sound of battistrangole, and shadows lengthening on monuments, the Middle Ages of flagellants and Franciscan praises come back to life.

The battistrangole soundtrack belongs to the Cantiano Good Friday reenactment as well, which, as we said, begins at five in the morning, when young people beat their instruments in the streets of town to wake up those who want to go on a “tour of the seven churches,” like the number of Rome’s holy places, and the seven words of Jesus on the Cross, and the seven sorrows of Mary. While donuts, cresce, and pasta with chickpeas are prepared in kitchens, on the outside, the “turba” of the inhabitants chants the Last Supper and the sentencing and killing of the Redeemer, which engages two hundred reenactors wearing costumes in a very special performance recognized by the University of Florence Theater Institute. Again, the most distant memory dates to the movement of the Battuti, penitents who self-flagellated naked on the path of suffering and redemption.

As to the most recent memory, dating to the pre-war period, the people of Cantiano would use only mimicry while chanting the Miserere, while now words and recitations of salient passages from the Gospel make the understanding of the narrated facts more immediate, but perhaps less evocative. The word turba is found in Luke, meaning a tumultuous crowd: “While He was still speaking, behold, a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was preceding them; and he approached Jesus to kiss Him.”

The scene of the betrayal is performed around 9pm in Parco della Rimembranza. This is followed by the trial and sentencing of Christ and the Ascent to Calvary at 11pm. The final parade of the reenactors towards the Collegiate Church of St. John the Baptist occurs at the start of the new Day of Resurrection.

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