Growing up, I had a certain conception of Easter – the Easter bunny, colored eggs and the first wearing of a new spring dress, but there was also the Easter story and Easter Sunday in church, which always seemed like a very joyous occasion. When living in Italy, I had a number of opportunities in which I was able to experience Easter in Calabria, but this year I was invited to the town of Badolato, specifically for their Easter festivities. Full immersion.
In this small Calabrian town in the Province of Catanzaro, the Easter bunny didn’t play any role whatsoever, although there was an Easter egg hunt organized by local English speakers. I didn’t notice any of the large, brightly covered chocolate Easter eggs that are seen all over Italy, either. The focal point was religious, the processions in particular, which took place on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The whole town was involved, whether they chose to be or not.
Lying in bed early Friday morning, gazing up at the wooden ceiling with its large beams that had been holding up the floor above for hundreds of years, the beating of distant drums roused me from my musings. The faithful were already on the move.
I was in Badolato for a long weekend to experience the highlights of Easter in Calabria, although the official program began on Palm Sunday and continued through Easter Sunday. Throughout the week, the devotional focus was shared amongst the town’s three confraternities and their churches. The rhythm of these ancient rites accelerated towards the end of the week to feature the participation of all the brotherhoods of the village in elaborate devotional processions.
GOOD FRIDAY PROCESSION
Beginning in the early afternoon at the Church of San Domenico, the Good Friday cortege was led by a group of male singers and wound through the steep medieval lanes of Badolato. The a cappella choristers earnestly rendered a two-part lament that oozed a melancholy from earlier epochs.
A funereal bed with the figure of Jesus Christ followed, then a local band and finally the statue of the Madonna. The participants were clothed in simple white frocks draped by a black cape. Most wore jeans and tennis shoes underneath. The procession made many stops in churches along the way, up and down the narrow streets, then to the bottom of the hill and eventually up to the old Franciscan convent of St. Mary of the Angels, a healthy walk several kilometers away, from which I could hear the distant strains of the band from my balcony in the old town at least five hours later.
HOLY SATURDAY PROCESSION
Saturday’s procession started out at the baroque Church of the Immacolata, an attractive architectural landmark situated at the bottom of a long, stone staircase leading from the old town. The church sits perched on a hill surrounded by a rolling valley with a wide, dry riverbed below, and as from most everywhere in the town, affords a panoramic view of the Ionian coastline.
The Penitential Procession of the Sorrowful Mysteries of Holy Saturday easily involves 200 or more characters, and there was also a band smartly dressed in black uniforms with red trim from the nearby town of Albi. Both young and old play parts ranging from Roman soldiers to mourning women to pallbearers to the condemned, the faces of whom are covered.
Hebrews clothed in yellow beat Jesus and yell epithets while a large group of flagellants, dressed completely in white with long, belted robes and pointed head coverings with eye holes and topped with a crown of thorns, flog themselves with metal noisemakers.
The choristers sing and the band plays on, creating an interesting Charles Ives effect at times. As on the previous day, the procession makes its way through the streets of the old town and many, many hours later reaches the Franciscan convent.
The traditional “Cumprùnta” is greatly anticipated. My hosts prepared a beautiful spread of cold cuts, cheese, vegetables in oil, Easter cakes and local red wine for the occasion, and with such choice nibbles, we could have waited a good long time for the meeting between the risen Christ and the Madonna.
A sizable crowd lined the street and looked down from balconies in the village’s Piazza San Barbara. From my prime balcony position I had a bird’s eye view of the large flags being run back and forth, and then before I knew it, the risen Christ was being run in from one side, the Madonna dressed in black from the other.
And, Poof! She was transformed! In less than a blink of an eye, her black dress changed to a white one. I was glad I had made a video as it happened so fast, I wasn’t even really sure I had seen it.
Interestingly, the band broke out in a rousing chorus of Johann Strauss’ “Radetzky” March, not what I would have expected for such a reunion, but certainly a very festive selection. Of course, I’m more used to “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” and Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, but I also reminisce of Easter bonnets and bunnies.
Following the reunion of Jesus and Mary, there was another happening, that of the dancing flags. The very tall and very heavy poles were placed in the dancer’s mouth. Incredibly, he then balanced and swayed the flag with ropes, bobbing up and down as he went – it was quite a feat and fun to watch. I wondered what the local dentist thought of this particular dance, but it was nevertheless quite impressive.
EASTER IN CALABRIA
Jesus and the Madonna were carried back and forth through the street and I couldn’t help but notice, not only the enthusiasm of the crowd, but the fact that it was so mixed. All generations participated in one way or another. Many people living in other parts of Italy or some even from abroad came back to Badolato to be a part of the tradition.
Easter in Calabria is a very social time, but it’s more than the spectacle of the processions. As a visitor, you can’t help but feel a connection and even be moved, whatever your religion, because customs and traditions rooted in popular culture draw out your emotions. And as advertised on the event’s poster, the citizens of Badolato live this tradition with conviction, love and faith.
Click to view my video: Easter in Calabria, Badolato Processions.
I would like to thank Riviera e Borghi degli Angeli of Badolato for graciously inviting me to participate in their traditional Easter in Calabria.
Read more about traditions in Calabria in the posts The Festival of the Madonna in Reggio Calabria, Lent in Italy – Corajisima, A Calabrian Tradition, Mammola and Mushrooms, and in Calabria: The Other Italy, an award-winning, nonfiction book that explores daily life, culture, history, the arts, food, society and tourism of Calabria, Italy.
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