This trip will be an authentic surprise. All different and incredible, Easter traditions in Italy will certainly leave you speechless.
Easter week in Italy is one of the most important moments not only who is religious. The Whole of Italy, from North to South, is rich in ancient Easter traditions that have been handed down for centuries, from generation to generation.
Somewhere between religious worship and the purest folklore, the celebrations preceding Easter Sunday are an experience to be experienced and better known.
Suggestive, mysterious and moving: in this article, we'll introduce you to 10 of the most authentic and unmissable Easter traditions in Italy.
10. Piedmont: where Jerusalem is on stage every 2 years
Speaking of Italian Easter traditions, we are taking you to ancient Jerusalem, instead. The Holy Friday procession is held in Romagnano Sesia, province of Novara, only in odd years. It's a 4 days celebration, during which more than 300 actors and extras perform the Via Crucis.
You'll see Legionnaires riding horses, and Veliti, the light-armed troops, following on foot: 14 scenes take place on the street of the little village which found itself living a new, ancient life during the Holy Week.
And what happens to Romagnano Sesia in even years? People do not perform Holy Week, but Epiphany, on January 6th.
If you think that this is the most incredible Easter tradition one can see in Piedmont, you certainly should continue reading.
9. Easter traditions in Vercelli: sculptural groups going in procession
Around the Seventeen and Eighteen centuries the traditions of the "Processione delle Macchine" began to take place in Vercelli, Piedmont. In Italian "Macchine" literally means something like "machineries" or "cars", but in this case the term has nothing to do with it. "Macchine", in fact, are wooden sculptural groups. They are usually preserved inside the churches of the brotherhoods in Vercelli, but during Holy Friday, they are carried in procession.
Just the light of the torches illuminate the beautiful scene, while all around the members of the brotherhoods advance dressed in traditional costumes.
After the sculptural groups, the Archbishop follows, carrying the relic of the Holy Cross, and then the people. In the dialect of Piedmont they are called "the company of the shoves" ("la compagnia d’j arbuton"), for the many shoves that people push against each other to get the best view.
8. In Liguria, Easter is synonym to an amazing evening Procession
"The deposition in the sepulchre" is the penultimate sculptural group to be carried in procession (photo taken by Mariangela Calabria)
In Savona, the beautiful Ligurian city overlooking the sea, only in even years, Holy Friday is the occasion to organize a great religious procession that has more than 800 years of history.
In fact, around the year 1200, to celebrate Holy Friday, the Brotherhoods of the city used to organize some spectacular events which were more entertaining than religious.
It was not until the Seventeen century that it was decided to organize a more religious procession, enriching the event with wooden sculptural groups. The most famous one is "Ecce Home", realized by the artist Renata Cuneo in the during the seventies. More than 2 meters tall, the statue shows Jesus in the center, wearing a purple robe like a royal cape.
"Ecce Home" is the eighth out of fifteen sculptural groups carried on the shoulders across the streets of Savona.
Will the Easter traditions change while we are moving towards the center of Italy?
7. In the Orcia valley, an unmissable Easter celebration
The wonders of Orcia Valley (Val d'Orcia in Italian), in the hinterland of Siena, are renowned all over the world. However, there is a small village, Radicofani, whose Easter traditions are mostly unknown. In the last years, fascinated journalists and bloggers have begun to write about its splendor, because this small Tuscan village organizes something truly unforgettable.
It all begins during the Holy Thursday, when a Mass recalls the Last Supper and the Sepulchre opening. Candles, lights and candelabras are prepared, but also the attire and the symbolic food, like bread and biscuits (made without eggs). After the Mass and the Washing of the Feet, the Procession of Penitence takes place: it's opened by people walking barefoot and carrying a big cross and two lights, then the people whose feet were previously washed (representing the Apostles) and finally the people of Radicofani follow. The procession ends silently, waiting for the next day.
On Holy Friday, at 1 PM, "The Three Hours Agony" begins inside the Church of Sant'Agata. Next to the altar, masterpiece of Andrea della Robbia, some branches of boxwood, representing the Calvary, are lit by hundreds of small lights (in the past they were oil candles). In the evening, at 9.30 PM, it's time for the great "Dark Procession" (in italian "Processione Buia". Barefoot people carrying a big cross start the procession, followed by 24 hooded people, 12 members of the Brotherhood of Sant'Agata (in red), and 12 members of the Brotherhood of Misericordia (in white). Then members of other religious communities, the band, the parish and the people follow.
The procession ends inside the Church of Sant'Agata, in front of the beautiful altar and the Calvary.
6. In the center of Italy, the Easter tradition of the hooded people of Chieti
The Brotherhood of San Francesco Caracciolo during Easter Procession in Chieti (photo taken by Cats' photos)
It seems that the procession of Chieti dates back to 842 A.D.. The procession is so important to the people of Chieti, that it was never cancelled, nor for bad weather, nor for other reasons. It was performed also in 1944 when the Nazi prohibited it, and also in 2020, in a greatly reduced dimension, when, because of the pandemic, the only ones to participate were the Archbishop and two prelates.
It takes place in the evening, just after the Mass inside the Cathedral of San Giustino. The heartbreaking Miserere, composed by Saverio Selecchy in 1740, is intoned by 140 choristers and 200 musicians, giving substance to the solemnity of the moment. Hundreds of people wait patiently outside the Cathedral for the procession to start. After sunset, it's time to begin.
The procession is opened by members of Confraternities, hooded by white robes, except for the Confraternity of Misericordia, in black, and the Confraternity of the Belt, dressed with a black robe. Soon after come religious authorities, the Archbishop, and members of the Archconfraternity of the Sacro Monte dei Morti, all dressed with a black robe, a short yellow cloak and a black hood.
Then, it's time for musicians and singers and all the people carrying the symbols of the Passion of Christ. Here they are called "Trofei", which means "trophy", and they are masterpieces realized decades ago, in the XIX century. There are wooden statues, sculptures, objects, and a big cross, raw and really heavy. This is the true heart of the procession of Chieti, followed by all people.
Enchanted by the beauty of Easter in Chieti, will we be able now to proceed and discover Easter traditions of Southern Italy?
5. The White and the Black Processions celebrate Easter in Sorrento
Sorrento, and its beautiful peninsula, it's one of the place in Italy where Easter traditions are most alive. So old and suggestive, these traditions are made to move one's heart, whether it belongs to a curious tourist, or to a person living in Sorrento. In fact, from father to son, these traditions, with all their secrets, are transmitted and evoked, year after year, with the same emotion.
The night between Thursday and Friday is time for the "White Procession": around 3 AM, hundreds of people, wearing a white robe with a black belt, and the face covered by a white hood, proceed across the streets of Sorrento, evoking the sorrow of the Virgin Mary, searching for her son, betrayed and condemned to the cross. They are the "Belted People" ("Cinturiati" in italian), members of the Venerable Archconfraternity of Santa Monica.
On Friday evening, around 9 PM, it's time for another unmissable event, the "Black Procession", dedicated to Christ, dead on the cross. The hooded people wear a black robe, covering also their face, and they belong to the Venerable Archconfraternity of Death. Litanies and funeral marches are performed during both processions. Dozens of singers intone songs and psalms, asking for forgiveness.
These two processions share an ancient origin, but it seems that the solemn splendor we see today was influenced by Spanish domination. Moments so touching that can not leave anyone's heart indifferent.
In Campania, however, these processions are just one of the most extraordinary Easter traditions to be performed in Italy.
4. Easter Mystery bring to life in Procida
One of the most ancient traditions of Campania dates back to Seventeen century. The new incredible setting is the island of Procida where, for more than 400 years, on Holy Friday dawn people are awakened by the sound of the trumpets.
This procession is unique in its kind. In Procida, in fact, the floats used during the procession are made by the people of Procida themselves. They start to work at them at the end of Carnival, working days and nights to create something unique, representing the different stages of the Passion of Christ. It's a serious commitment that the people of Procida take, not only speaking about time, but also money. The efforts of this great work are shown inside the Church of San Giacomo for 40 days, after the Mystery Processions on Holy Friday.
It starts in the morning, around 8 AM. The procession has its peak when the statues of Mary of Sorrows and the Dead Christs are carried on shoulders to the Church of San Tommaso. The statue of Christ is a wooden masterpiece made by Carmine Lantriceni in the seventeen century. It all ends by Marina Grande harbor, where the statues are left inside the Abbey of San Michele.
And at the end the day, what's better than a torchlight procession to bring the statues back to the Church of San Tommaso?
An unmissable occasion to finally visit the beautiful Capital of Culture 2022.
3. The cross-bearers of Noicattaro among the most extraordinary Apulian Easter traditions
Easter traditions in Noicattaro, small village not far from Bari, Apulia, are really scenic. Here, Easter is time for a big event starting from Holy Thursday.
However, it's probably the beginning the most intense event of the celebration, when the cross-bearer people, with a black robe, the face covered and a crown of thorns on the head, walk on their knees through the aisle of the church. After that, they flog their shoulders with an iron chain linked to their feet. Outside the church, a bonfire is started to pray for an abundant harvest. Then, around 9 PM, it's time to start the procession, which is opened by the cross-bearers, and followed by people carrying lights and children playing ratchets: it all evokes the Praetorian Guard that brang Jesus before Pilatus.
Friday is dedicated to the "Procession of the Naka", in other words the sarcophagus, in the shape of a cradle, where the body of Christ is put. Saturday is time for grieving and sorrow: at 2 AM, lit by candlelight, it's time for the Procession of Mary of Sorrow. Cross-bearer people and women, dressed in mourning wear, follow the statue of Mary and kiss its black veil. In the afternoon, the last event before Easter is the "Mystery Procession".
Ready to discover the last two and most beautiful Easter traditions of Italy?
2. A new Jerusalem is on stage in Barile, Basilicata
One scene captured from the Jesus' trial performed in Barile, province of Potenza (photo taken by Asia)
In the small village of Barile, in Basilicata, Easter is the perfect occasion to perform an incredible event. People of all ages take part in the procession, providing their knowledge, time or gold jewels, as we will see later.
126 performing people, subdivided into 25 scenes, put on stage the Passion of Christ. Next to characters belonging to the religious tradition, there are also characters that belong to the local folklore. For example, you'll see the Gypsy, a lady that is said to have bought the spikes for the cross. There is also the Moro (Moorish person) and the Moretto (little Moorish person) that, together with the Gypsy embody evil: these three characters, in fact, laugh and show indifference to human suffering.
Gold is very important in this event and the Gypsy has the corsage which is full of it: tradition has it that she begins to ask for it to all the families of Barile as soon as Christmas. And on Holy Friday? She laughs and dances, embodying beauty and evil.
So now we are finally ready for the last step of our tour among the most beautiful Italian Easter traditions. What will be next?
1. In Sicily, the Spanish influence enriches the Easter traditions of Enna
In the city of Enna, Easter is celebrated richly, intensely and it lasts one week, beginning with Palm Sunday. Even here, anyway, the crucial event is the procession held on Holy Friday, so important and unique to be included in the Registry of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Sicily. More than 2 thousand confreres have their role in the event, and more than 20 thousand people, coming from all over Sicily, attend the event every year.
The confreres are hooded and walk through the city of Enna perfectly silent. The procession is opened by the members of the Confraternity of Passion, who carry with them the 25 symbols of the martyrdom of Jesus: these objects are called "Misteri". After them, all the other Confraternities follow. The procession reaches the cemetery church where the blessing is performed. Then, it's time for the procession to come back to the Dome.
Needless to day, it's a great event that year after year still touches everyone's heart.