Holy Week, or Settimana Santa, is one of the most significant times of the year for Catholics and Christians all over the world. Holy Week in Puglia is a time of deep religious devotion, reflection, and celebration, and it is marked by several traditions and feasts that bring families and communities together.
Pasqua (Easter) is probably the most celebrated and loved among the locals; for an entire week the region abandons its modernity to embrace religious rituals of extreme beauty and highly symbolic for the drama that can transmit.
Solemn celebrations are held all across the region and may vary from town to town according to local traditions, believes and historical events that may have marked the local history and are still deep into the spirit of the people.
Throughout Holy Week in Puglia, many towns and cities also hold religious processions and reenactments, such as the Processione dei Misteri in Taranro, which features elaborate statues depicting scenes from the Passion of Christ. After the processions, families often gather to share a meal and celebrate together.
The Settimana Santa (Holy Week) starts on Domenica delle Palme (Palm Sunday) and ends on Easter Sunday: the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are celebrated in a series of religious events that will include the Palm Sunday, the Sepolcri on Holy Thursday, the Processione dei Misteri on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. These spectacular rituals are extremely emotional and moving and are a truly life experience, even for non-catholic people.
Celebrations will start on Palm Sunday when olive branches are blessed in churches and are taken home as a symbol of peace. In a few towns, a theatrical representation of the Passion of Christ is set out in the streets: actors dressing traditional costumes act representing the last soup, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the last moments of his life.
On the evening of Holy Thursday, the churches in the city prepares the Sepolcri (actually the real name would be altars of repose), an ancient rite already known in the 19th century: the chapel of repose is decorated with offerings, white flowers and candles to celebrate the Blessed Sacrament. The tradition is to visit an odd number of churches and pray at each one. This is also an opportunity to visit churches which are, in some cases, usually closed to the public and only open on this occasion.
Among the others we mention the cities of Taranto and Francavilla Fontana (Brindisi Province) where we assist at the pilgrimage of confratelli (respectively called Perdoni and Pappamusci): pilgrims who walk in pairs, slowly and barefoot, through the old town visiting all the churches where they stop to pray. They wear a traditional dress consisting of a long gown and a cap with two holes for the eyes that makes them unrecognizable.
The biggest event is undoubtedly the Processione of Misteri that takes place on Good Friday in all towns with the longest and most famous being held in Taranto (which can last up to 24 hours). Large statues representing the Virgin and the Passion of Christ are carried through the city by the members of religious fraternities; they cover an important role when it comes to organize the procession: each fraternity is in fact responsible for carrying one of the statues like Christ at the Column, Christ in the Garden, Christ at the Calvary and the Dead Christ, Christ with the Crown of Thorns.
Carrying a statue is a privilege and the members of the fraternities win it with an auction where all the proceeds go to charity. The statues are followed by large crowds, older women and barefoot people. Total silence reigns among the crowd and it is broken only by the melancholy and mournful music played by the bands.
Processione della Desolata di Canosa
Another famous celebration is the Processione della Desolata di Canosa which that takes place in the town of Canosa di Puglia. The procession is held on Good Friday, which is the Friday before Easter Sunday.
The origin of the procession dates back to the early 1600s, when a group of local women decided to organize a procession in honor of the Virgin Mary, who they believed was grieving over the death of her son, Jesus. The women would dress in black and carry a statue of the grieving Virgin Mary through the streets of Canosa.
Today, the procession begins in the late afternoon and lasts several hours. Participants, both men and women, dress in black and carry candles and religious icons as they make their way through the streets of Canosa. The procession is led by a statue of the Virgin Mary, which is carried by four men on a platform adorned with flowers and candles.
Along the route, the participants sing hymns and recite prayers in honor of the Virgin Mary and her son, Jesus. The procession is known for its solemn and emotional atmosphere, with many participants weeping and expressing their grief over the death of Jesus.
At the end of the procession, the statue of the Virgin Mary is placed in the town’s cathedral, where it remains until the following year’s procession. The Processione della Desolata di Canosa is a deeply religious and cultural event that has been an important part of the town’s history and traditions for centuries.
Le Fracchie di San Marco in Lamis
Another suggestive events that takes place on Holy Friday is the Rite of Le Fracchie in San Marco in Lamis (Foggia Province). Groups of men known as “fraccaroli” carry large torches or “fracchie” through the streets of the town in a solemn and mournful procession. The torches are made of bundles of twigs and branches that have been soaked in oil, and they are set alight just before the procession begins.
The Fraccaroli carry the burning torches on their shoulders and run through the streets, stopping at various points to offer prayers and reflections on the passion and death of Christ. The torches are a symbol of the light of Christ that illuminates the darkness of sin and death.
The history behind the Rite of “Le Fracchie” on Holy Friday in San Marco in Lamis is somewhat uncertain. Regardless of its origins, it has been observed in San Marco in Lamis for centuries, and it has become an integral part of the town’s cultural and religious identity. The event is a symbol of the deep faith and devotion of the local community, and it continues to attract visitors from all over the world who come to witness this unique and powerful expression of tradition and spirituality.
Easter Sunday will close the Holy Week, this is the day to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, it is day of joy and happiness, churches are beautifully decorated for the occasion and people will gather together for the mass followed by the traditional family lunch.
We want to close reminding about a popular ritual very well-known particularly in Salento, the Quaremma (a term derived from French which means Lent). The Quaremma is a puppet that marks the beginning of Lent and the end of Carnival, it is hung along the streets, on balconies and terraces of most of the town and depicts an old, ugly and thin woman, dressed in black in mourning for the death of Carnival. She holds a wire wool and a spindle on her right hand to symbolize the industriousness and the time that goes by. In her left hand she holds a bitter orange with seven chicken feathers stuck in it, indicating the number of Sundays left from Lent to Easter Sundays.
Each week a feather is pulled from the orange till Easter Sunday when the Quaremma is hung on a pole and burnt to symbolize the proclamation of the Resurrection.