Easter celebrations in Italy take on many different guises and vary significantly according to the region.
In the town of Francavilla Fontana in Puglia, the whole of Easter week sees a steady build up to the celebration of the risen Christ on Easter Sunday itself starting one week before on Palm Sunday when traditionally the faithful would take olive branches to the churches to be blessed, after which the children take them from door to door as a sign of peace.
Food features strongly with Holy Wednesday being the day of the ‘piatti’ or ‘dishes’ (of food) when food such as grain left to ferment ahead of Easter during Lent is paraded around on ornate wooden platters decorated with flowers and topped with a lemon symbolising the sun. Again children carry these platters around the town knocking on doors and offering to barter their edible goods or exchange them for a few coins.
On Holy Thursday, the traditional pilgrimage of “Pappamusci” takes place. The Pappamusci are hooded pilgrims who, dressed in long cream coloured gowns and a pilgrim’s hood, walk slowly, barefoot in pairs while chanting. In one hand they hold a cane and in the other a rosary and they walk along the same path they’ve done for centuries to reach the tombs. This pilgrimage lasts well into the night and is resumed on Friday morning, marking the time of the death of Christ.
Good Friday has an air of quiet reverence and is when the main processions occur with the statues of the mysteries being paraded through the town, last of all a reenactment of the figure of Christ carrying the cross to the heavy beat of the “trenula”. There’s an intense and emotional quality to the whole event.
In contrast, the Easter Sunday procession is a joyous affair…
The Dashing Madonna
The town of Sulmona in Abruzzo is known in Italy for its tradition of “La Madonna Che Scappa” or “The Dashing Madonna”! This procession takes place on Easter Sunday and is, by all accounts, a dramatic event and joyful event contrasting with the more solemn processions of the preceding Good Friday.
This time the procession is lead by the Lauretani who wear a white robe with a green mantle to symbolize the purity and renewal of nature. There is an air of expectation as the crowds gather to see the procession of the Risen Christ and the apostles Saint John and Saint Peter leaving the church of Santa Maria della Tomba.
The crux of this event is when the statue of Saint John is carried to the church to announce the resurrection of her son to the mourning Virgin Mary (Madonna). She firstly refuses to believe the news but finally the Madonna emerges wearing a black cape proceeding along the street. When she sees her reborn son, she suddenly bursts in a dash – with the help of the Lauretani – at which point her black cloak is whipped off to reveal her bright green dress underneath, signifying new life. As part of this Easter ritual a flock of white doves is released into the air, there are loud fireworks and church bells are sounded.
The superstition is that if the mourning coat falls off correctly and the doves fly high there will be a bountiful harvest.
Along with all of the delicious sweets and confectionery one would expect to find at this time of year in Italy, there are many other traditional regional delicacies. Pugliese “Puddhricasci” are a traditional Easter speciality in this particular region. Although essentially savoury, the dough is made with cinnamon, lemon zest and the juice and zest of an orange, which give it a delicate flavour. Perhaps not as luxurious as gift as our Lavolio Nutty Mini Eggs 😉 but a hearty and tasty snack nonetheless!