Carol King selects some of the most popular Easter celebrations in Italy.

Italy is famous for its spectacular celebrations surrounding Pasqua (Easter) as Italians head to church and take to the streets in parades to honour the most important week in the Christian calendar. Festivities continue throughout Holy Week, culminating on Easter Sunday, when families enjoy a lunch based on roast lamb and specially-prepared cakes. Pasquetta (Easter Monday) is traditionally the first chance for a spring outing in the year, when Italians head for parks, woods and nature reserves to have a picnic.

La Madonna Che Scappa (The Dashing Madonna)

Madonna che Scappa Sulmona

The town of Sulmona in the Peligna Valley marks Good Friday with a procession that starts in the evening at the Baroque Church of Santissima Annunziata and ends late at night at the Church of Santissima Trinità. On Easter Sunday, a procession sets out at 11am from the medieval Church of Santa Maria della Tomba bearing the statues of the Risen Christ, Saint John and Saint Peter. Bearers carry the statues to the Church of San Filippo Neri to announce the news of the Resurrection to the mourning Madonna of Loreto. She refuses and the saints implore her to come out of the church. Eventually, the church door opens and a black-clad Madonna moves out. A flock of 12 doves is released and tradition dictates that if they fly high, it is a sign of a good harvest to come. Suddenly, the Madonna breaks into a dash as she rushes to meet her son, accompanied by the sound of firecrackers.
Location: Sulmona, L’Aquila, Abruzzo
Date: Holy Week 25 to 31 March
Website: http://www.comune.sulmona.aq.it/manifestazioni.html

Abballu Di Li Diavuli (Dance Of The Devils)

Abballu Di Li Diavuli

On Easter Sunday morning, in the small Sicilian town of Prizzi near Palermo, two locals don gruesome red, metal masks and red robes to disguise themselves as devils, joined by another masked local dressed in yellow representing Death in a ritual that dates to medieval times. They walk through the town offering money and sweets in an attempt to tempt as many people as possible and transport their souls to hell. However, their plans are thwarted in the early afternoon when they encounter statues of the Virgin Mary and the Risen Christ in a procession escorted by two angels holding swords. The meeting between good and evil is known as the ‘Dance Of The Devils’ because the devils and dance around to avoid meeting the Christ and the Virgin. Good triumphs over evil when the statues of the Virgin and Christ meet, and the angels defeat the devils.
Location: Prizzi, Palermo, Sicily
Date: Easter Sunday 31 March
Website: http://www.prolocohippanaprizzi.it/page_ballo_diavoli.html

Le Fracchie (The Torches)

Le Fracchie San Marco in Lamis

On Good Friday, in the town of San Marco in Lamis, a traditional celebration takes place whereby where split tree trunks filled with sticks of wood are set alight. The huge burning torches are piled on small wagons to light the way for a procession carrying a statue of the Madonna Addolorata as she looks for the body of her dead son.
Location: San Marco in Lamis, Foggia, Puglia
Date: Good Friday 29 March
Website: http://www.comune.sanmarcoinlamis.fg.it

Rito Della Passione (Passion Play)

In the small town of Barile in southern Italy, more than 100 locals join in a re-enactment of Christ’s Passion. Dressed as Biblical characters they join in a procession that takes a 3-mile-long route through the town. The parade is led by men on horseback dressed as centurions and stops at various point to act out parts of the Gospel stories. The Biblical figures are joined by two fictitious characters: the Moro (Moor), who represents evil, and the Zingara (Gypsy), who according to tradition collected the nails from the cross.
Location: Barile, Potenza, Basilicata
Date: Good Friday 29 March
Website: www.comune.barile.pz.it/

Processione Dei Misteri (Procession Of The Mysteries)

I Misteri Trapani

The Procession of the Mysteries is held in the city of Trapani in Sicily. It starts at 2pm on Good Friday and continues for almost 24 hours. It is the longest religious event in Italy and one of the oldest. Twenty floats carrying groups of statues, known as the ‘Misteri’ (Mysteries) that represent the events of the Passion and Crucifixion, are paraded through the city, starting out from and finishing at the Church of Del Purgatorio.
Location: Trapani, Sicily
Date: Good Friday 29 March
Website: http://www.processionemisteritp.it/

Sacra Rappresentazione Del Venerdì Santo (Sacred Representation Of Good Friday)

The Good Friday procession held in Valmontone’s historic centre on Good Friday evening takes its inspiration from medieval times. Hundreds of locals participate, reciting texts based on the Holy Scriptures following the events of Christ’s life culminating in the events of the Passion, from the Last Supper to the Resurrection.
Location: Valmontone, Rome, Lazio
Date: Good Friday 29 March
Website: http://www.comune.valmontone.rm.gov.it/home

Setmana Santa De L’Alguer (Holy Week In Alghero)

Settimana Santa Alghero

Alghero in Sardinia celebrates Holy Week according to the rites of a Catalan tradition dating back to 1501. The celebrations begin on Holy Tuesday with the procession of Sorrowful Mysteries. On Maundy Thursday, a statue of Christ is taken from the Church of La Misericordia to Saint Mary’s Cathedral where the alburament takes place, which consists of raising the statue to the centre of the altar. The Jermanes Blancs, or Confraternita della Misericordia (the Brotherhood of Misericordia), stand vigil all night. On Good Friday, a statue of the body of Christ is taken down from the cross. On Easter Sunday, statues of the Risen Christ and the Virgin Mary are carried in two different processions until they meet in front of a cheering crowd outside the Church of La Misericordia.
Location: Alghero, Sassari, Sardinia
Dates: Holy Week 25 to 31 March
Website: http://www.alghero-turismo.it

Scoppio Del Carro (Explosion Of The Cart)

Scoppio del Carro Firenze

According to tradition, in 1096, during the First Crusade, when Florentine knight Pazzino di Ranieri de’ Pazzi planted the banner of the Holy Cross on Jerusalem’s battlements he received some fragments of the Holy Sepulchre of Christ as a reward. On his return to Florence in 1101, the stones were used to start the sacred fire on Easter Saturday. As the years passed, the sacred fire was transported on a cart throughout the streets of Florence. In contemporary times, on Easter Sunday morning, a large wagon pulled by white oxen forms part of a procession through Florence’s city centre to arrive at the front of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Our Lady of the Flower, or of Florence). There the fire ignites a fuse attached to a dove-shaped rocket holding an olive branch in its beak. The dove shoots down a wire extended from the cathedral choir to the cart. It sets off a series of explosions to blow up the cart, which is laden with fireworks.
Location: Florence, Tuscany
Date: Easter Sunday 31 March
Website: http://www.duomofirenze.it/

Vasa Vasa (Kiss, Kiss/Cheek To Cheek)

Maronna Vasa Vasa Modica

On Easter Sunday morning in the town of Modica in southeast Sicily, there are two processions. One set of bearers carries a statue of the Risen Christ and the other one of the Virgin Mary clad in back. They are carried around the town’s main street, Corso Umberto, until they meet. The Virgin is so enthusiastic to see her son that she throws off her black robes to reveal a celestial blue cloak and red dress. Her arms move from her side to open in embrace, as she leans forward she plants two kisses, Italian style – in Sicilian dialect the ‘Vasa Vasa’ – to the sound of a brass band, church bells and fireworks. The Virgin is overcome with joy and confetti bursts forth from her golden crown. Doves are released in the air as a symbol of peace.
Location: Modica, Ragusa, Sicily
Date: Easter Sunday 31 March
Website: http://www.comune.modica.gov.it/

Via Crucis Al Colosseo (Stations Of The Cross At The Colosseum)

Via Crucis Colosseo

The Stations of the Cross devotion has been practiced by Roman Catholics for centuries. In Rome, on Good Friday evening there is a Stations of the Cross procession at the Colosseum. The tradition dates to the 18th century during Pope Benedict XIV’s pontificate and Pope Paul VI revived it in 1964. Originally, the pope carried the cross from station to station but, because of infirmity, some popes have presided over the ceremony from a stage on the Palatine Hill while others carried the cross. It remains to be seen whether the new pope will carry the cross. The ceremony is broadcast via the Vatican’s website and on the Radio Vaticana website starting from approximately 9pm Italian time.
Location: Rome, Lazio
Date: Good Friday 29 March
Website: Vatican www.vatican.va; Radio Vaticana www.radiovaticana.org