Sunday, March 27, 2005

Easter over Christmas in Sicily

Apparently, Easter is much more important than Christmas to Sicilians, who are, of course, 99.9% Catholic. There are processions, reenactments, decorations, celebrations, and ceremonies continually during Holy Week in nearly every village, town, and city on the island. The more famous ones are advertised, televised, and even attended by tour groups.

Some of my friends and colleagues and were fortunate to attend one of these on Good Friday in Enna, an ancient (originally Greek) hill town (alt. 3,054 ft.) about 45 minutes to the west of Catania. It was a great time with the combination of the old Greek/Arab city and procession, the company, the weather, the wine . . . . It was especially interesting and rather spooky because the participants cover their faces and heads with pointed hoods that look like the KKK during the main part of the procession. (Two African-American women in our group were taking photos to send home, saying “They’ll never believe it.”) The fifteen “confraternities” (men’s organizations) each have different colored costumes, which are long white robes with various colored capes.

The purpose of the Good Friday procession is to reenact the death and funeral of Christ. They carry a life-size model of the dead Jesus in a glass coffin and another of Mary with knives in her heart. Both of these are carried by long rows of men holding poles which hold the figures up. They are right up against each other and have to walk in lockstep lest one mess up and fifteen men fall like dominoes. The two groups then meet in the cathedral and, when it gets dark, a procession of at least a thousand men and boys in costumes with a band playing an eerie dirge precede them out of the cathedral again and all through the city with candles and crosses. It gave me shivers to experience it. A group of us followed this with a bottle of excellent red wine at the Hotel Sicilia before heading home.

Today, on Easter Sunday, three friends and I went to downtown Catania to experience Easter Mass at the cathedral. We started with a couple of rounds of cappucini and chocolate croissants in the Piazza Duomo and then into the church at 10:00. We emerged an hour and fifteen minutes later. In spite of the language difference, of course, the Mass is the same. The bishop himself celebrated it. A couple of typical Italian (or Sicilian) differences--cell phones going off, the sermon complete with LOTS of hand gestures by the bishop, and a Sicilian-style traffic jam at communion time (no lines—just crowd around). The music and ceremony were great. Afterwards, were off to another outdoor cafe for prosecco and then spent some time at the "antique market" which is really a flea market. All in all, a great first Easter in Sicily.


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