UNESCO Honors Four Italian Religious Processions

Tue, 12/10/2013 - 05:00

Religious processions in four Italian communities each featuring volunteers bearing an enormous structure on their shoulders have been added to the United Nations List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Ceremonies in Viterbo (Lazio), Sassari (Sardinia), Nola (Campania) and Palmi (Calabria) have all been named by UNESCO as notable for their "celebrations of big shoulder-borne processional structures."

Following is UNESCO’s description of the processions and why they have been included in their world heritage listing:  

“Catholic processions featuring large shoulder-borne processional structures take place throughout Italy, but particularly in four historic city centres: in Nola, a procession of eight wood and papier mâché obelisks commemorates the return of St. Paolino; in Palmi, bearers carry a complex processional structure in honour of Our Lady of the Holy Letter; in Sassari, the Discesa dei Candelieri (Descent of the Candlesticks) involves the votive transportation of wooden obelisks; and in Viterbo, the Macchina di Santa Rosa (Tower of Santa Rosa) commemorates the town’s patron saint. The coordinated and equitable sharing of tasks in a common project is a fundamental part of the celebrations, which bind the communities together through the consolidation of mutual respect, cooperation and joint effort. The celebrations require the involvement of musicians and singers, as well as skilled artisans who manufacture the processional structures and create the ceremonial clothes and artefacts. The festive communities rely on the informal transmission of these techniques and knowledge to recreate the structures every year, a process that aids cultural continuity and reinforces a strong sense of identity.”

Gianfranco Ganau, mayor of Sassari, called the UNESCO decision "an extraordinary event that recognizes the seriousness of the work and the committed efforts in all these years. Now we have the task of maintaining and promoting this UNESCO recognition that will no doubt promote the growth of our community." In Viterbo, Mayor Leonardo Michelini said that the ceremony includes important elements "of folklore and tradition, embodied by the more than 100 porters" who carry the machine through Viterbo's streets during the procession. "They are the living part...and due to their strength, their commitment, their real sacrifice, the fact of so much effort, something really big is accomplished each year". As for Nola, the event is "in the DNA of the people of Nola," said Mayor Geremia Biancardi, adding that he hoped the recognition will contribute to growth opportunities for his community, located about 30 km from Naples.

Watch the videos of the processions below:

Discesa dei Candelieri in Sassari

Macchina di Santa Rosa, Viterbo

Festa dei Gigli, Nola

La Varia di Palmi

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