— Top Ten Things to Do in Italy at Easter —
Easter, known as La Pasqua, is marked with many traditional and religious celebrations throughout Italy. Holy Week beginning with Palm Sunday is an important time in the Christian calendar. Palm Sunday sees the blessing and distributing of the palms and churches are adorned with palms and olive branches, in Rome thousands flock St Peters Square to receive palms blessed by the Pope. Easter is also a time for feasting after the fasting time of Lent and the Easter main meal consists usually of succulent roast lamb, eggs feature in many guises such as Brodetto Pasquale (soup) and a variety of sweet breads such as the dove shaped Colomba, which are given as gifts.
The Via Crucis Al Colosseo in Rome is undoubtedly the most important Easter celebration in Italy taking place on Good Friday and celebrated by the Pope. The Via Crucis goes from the Colosseum to the Temple of Venus in the Roman Forum and depicts the final moments of the Passion of Christ. Thousands of people come to Rome for Easter and attend this deeply religious ceremony. The tradition of the Via Crucis dates back to the XVIII century and Pope Benedict XIV and was revived in 1964 by Pope Paul VI. Traditionally the Pope carries the cross himself but if this is not possible someone is nominated to do this for him.
The Scoppio del Carro is celebrated every year on Easter Sunday in the Piazzo del Duomo in Florence and dates back the times of the Crusades. The tradition goes back to 1097 and the Crusade to the Holy Land, a young Florentine named Pazzino de’ Pazzi was the first to climb the walls of Jerusalem to raise the Christian flag. His bravery was rewarded by giving him three pieces of flint from the Holy Selpulchre which are today preserved in the church of SS Apostoli and are used to light the fire needed in the traditional celebrations surrounding the Resurrection of Christ.
A 30ft tall wooden cart is elaborately decorated, filled with fireworks and pulled through the streets of Florence by a pair of garlanded white oxen to the Piazza del Duomo. The ritual begins at 10am on Easter Sunday morning as a priest lights the Easter candle from a spark from the precious flints. From this candle the flame is used to light the coals which are placed inside a container on the cart. The cart is accompanied on its journey by city officials, priests, drummers, flag throwers and people in medieval costumes to its place outside the cathedral. At 11am the Gloria is sung inside the church before the lighting of a mechanical dove – colombina – attached to a wire is set in motion and which sets of the spectacular firework display outside. During all this time the bells of Giotto’s campanile are ringing out. The noise and lights from the display is supposed to bring Good Luck for the year’s harvest and the city and its people.
This is the longest of all of Italy’s ceremonies and lasts for 24 hours. The ‘Mysteries’ are representations of the Passion and Death of Christ and are taken in processions along the streets of Trapani. The celebrations are accompanied by lights and music. The procession begins at 2pm on Good Friday in the church of Anime Sante del Purgatorio and finishes back at the church at 2pm on Easter Saturday.
The Angels Run in Forio on the Isle of Ischia is a passion play taking place every Easter morning. The ceremony re-enacts an angel taking the message that Christ has risen to the Virgin Mary and St John the Apostle. The Angel runs three times to tell the news along the streets of Matteo Verde and Francesco Regine in the town until at last Mary meets with her risen son and the veil falls from her face and the bells ring out.
The angel sings the ‘Regina Coeli’ and onlookers throw colourful confetti whilst all around the fireworks break out to thunderous applause.
In the town of Prizzi near Palermo Easter Sunday morning sees the arrival of three characters dancing through the streets, they represent two devils in red and death in yellow. These colourful characters try to tempt onlookers with sweets to steal their souls but early in the afternoon they encounter the statues of the Virgin Mary, the Risen Christ and two angels brandishing swords.
The devils and death try their best to avoid this encounter and this is the dance of the devils. At last ‘good’ overcomes ‘evil’ and the devils are sent on their way by the angels. The deep significance of this event is the victory of good over the forces of evil.
In the small mountain town of San Marco in Lamis in the Gargano area, the ceremony of the ‘Torches’ is held every Good Friday. Split tree trunks are filled with bundles of sticks, placed on carts and set on fire. The procession then heads along the streets leading the way for the statue of the Madonna Addorlorata who is searching for the body of her son.
On Easter Sunday morning in the town of Modica, Ragusa in southeast Sicily the townsfolk celebrate ‘Vasa Vasa’ meaning Kiss Kiss in the Sicilian dialect. Two large statues are carried through the main street, Corso Umberto, one of Christ and one of the Virgin Mary dressed in a black cloak. When the statues meet the statue of the Virgin Mary sheds her black cloak to reveal one of deep blue over a red dress, her arms stretch out to Christ and she kisses her son. This celebration is accompanied by cheering from the crowd, releasing of white doves representing peace and the crown of the Virgin sprays out confetti over the heads of the onlookers.
As in most Italian towns on Easter Sunday morning Sulmona has its traditions which bring out the townsfolk and visitors to join in and enjoy this special day. At 11am the procession begins at the church of Santa Maria della Tomba carrying the statues of the saints John and Peter along with that of Christ. The procession moves to the church of St Filippo Neri to announce to the grieving Madonna news of the Resurrection but she refuses to come out. The saints implore her to come out and eventually she does and white doves are released. Suddenly as the Madonna sees her son and runs quickly to meet him accompanied by firecrackers and the cheers of the crowds.
The procession on Good Friday through the town of Barile in Basilicata takes a route three miles long and involves 100 people dressed in costumes accompanied by centurions on horseback as they re-enact scenes from the Gospels.
In the small town of Grassina near Florence five hundred local people come together to re-enact the passion play on Good Friday which makes its way through the town centre to finish off with the crucifixion on the hill.