Words by Michelle Fabio

Every 15 May, on the eve of patron Sant’Ubaldo’s day, giant candles take over the streets of Gubbio in Umbria for the Festa dei Ceri; the festival dates back to 1160, when the saint from Gubbio died.

Similar to the Festa dei Candelieri in Sardinia in spirit, Gubbio’s Feast of the Candles features a procession through the streets to the Abbey of Sant’Ubaldo followed by a hotly contested race between men (“ceraioli”) carrying three 300-kilogram wooden pillars decorated as candles, each topped with a statue of a saint—Ubaldo, Antonio, or Giorgio.

The ceraioli dress in white pants and shirts coloured by candle—yellow (Sant’Ubaldo), black (Sant’Antonio), and blue (Giorgio). Membership to the candle groups usually follow family loyalties; traditionally, Sant’Ubaldo is associated with masons, bricklayers, and stone-cutters; Sant’Antonio with farmers and students; and San Giorgio with merchants.

The celebration is full of emotion and excitement, lasts all day, and features a drumbeat wake-up call, Mass, a special baccalà breakfast, assembly of the candles in the main square, and finally, the main event, the race.

Here are some highlights of the great candle race, often called the Corsa dei Ceri, in Gubbio:

FYI, if you happen to still be in the Gubbio area at the end of May, be sure to check out the Palio della Balestra, an annual crossbow palio against nearby Sansepolcro.