This past week I happened to be in Reggio Calabria for the Procession of the Madonna. The festival is a constant for the city, not only in religious terms but with regard to families, neighbors, friends and between fellow Calabresi. As I followed the celebrations, I realized that the procession has also been a constant for me over the years I lived in the area and on my subsequent return visits.
MY FIRST PROCESSION OF THE MADONNA
When I moved to Calabria almost eleven years ago to teach English in a small school in Locri, I never imagined I would have had such a long-term bond with the region. I saw and experienced a great deal in those years, but documentation never occurred to me. This was pre-Instagram. I didn’t even have a digital camera, and each photo was precious.
Ten years ago, I took only one photo of my first Procession of the Madonna. Why hadn’t I splurged on another roll of film? Well, I wasn’t on Facebook and I didn’t have a blog. It just didn’t cross my mind.
In my book Calabria: The Other Italy, I wrote about my first procession of the Madonna in a section entitled “Reggio’s Guardian Angel.” I had the opportunity to view the procession from the balcony of a lovely home overlooking il Corso (the main street), and I felt lucky to have such a prime position as well as to have snapped the picture that I used in my book.
OTHER PROCESSIONS OF THE MADONNA
I have since attended other Festivals of the Madonna in Reggio and have taken countless photos and even videos. My blogpost The Festival of the Madonna in Reggio Calabria presents the history and particulars of the tradition in which the Madonna della Consolazione is carried from her home in the Basilica of Eremo to the Cathedral of Reggio.
The year I lived on the Corso, I had an excellent vantagepoint of the procession from my rooftop terrace apartment, and by that time, also a digital camera. My brief YouTube video Procession of the Madonna in Reggio Calabria gives an idea of the bird’s-eye perspective.
A couple of years ago, just as the Madonna was about to leave the cathedral for the return to Eremo, it began to rain. This was the November procession, and the forecast was particularly menacing, so she turned back around, and the event was postponed for the following week. The painting was taken out of the vara (elaborate carrying structure) under the watchful eyes of the clergy and was put back into the sanctuary frame, an ornate golden casing with a large, gold M in the center. Madonna? Maria? Had someone tried to sneak St. Francis or St. George into the frame when the Madonna was being hosted elsewhere?
THIS YEAR’S PROCESSION OF THE MADONNA
For this year’s procession I was better equipped to take photos and videos. I was amidst a great mass of people for the exit from and entrance to the cathedral on the Tuesday evening following the Madonna’s Saturday arrival to Reggio. The crowd was enormous. However, with the multitudes in attendance and the constant flow of those moving one way or another for a better view or to meet friends, the situation was quite calm, perhaps because it was a flock in the religious sense of the word. And even the non-religious couldn’t have helped but be moved by the energy that emerged from this ancient ritual of the people.
The vara is heavy, and with many rests for the carriers, proceeds slowly down the street, which gave me the opportunity to return to the beautiful home from where I witnessed my first procession ten years earlier. The rooms were just as I remembered them. The stunning crystal chandelier and gilded antique furniture still shone. My genteel hosts served cool drinks and cookies on elegant trays, and the views from the wrap-around balcony could not be beat.
There’s something for all ages at the Procession of the Madonna, from balloons to nuts to candy, and piles of the traditional mostacciolo cookies, also known as ‘nzudda and mastazzolu.
Later on, the Madonna enters the cathedral surrounded by atmospheric festival lights. The celebrations have not finished, however. There are sausages to consume; there’s a carnival on the waterfront, and at midnight spectacular fireworks light up the night sky over the Strait of Messina.
Read more about the fascinating region in the toe of the boot in Calabria: The Other Italy, my non-fiction book about daily life, history, culture, art, food and society in this important area of South Italy. It’s available in paperback and e-book versions.
Connect on social media: “Like” Calabria: The Other Italy’s Facebook page and see this year’s video of the Procession of the Madonna, follow me on Karen’s Instagram and Karen’s Twitter for more beautiful pictures and information. Or join me on a small-group Calabria Tour!
Sign up below to receive the next blog post directly to your email for free.