What do you know about the Easter traditions on La Via Francigena? Easter is just around the corner and although this year we will not be able to celebrate it as usual because of the coronavirus pandemic, we want to talk about the traditions of “Pasqua” in Italy. This holiday is an opportunity to celebrate a very ancient ritual but, at the same time, to get to know new traditions. For those travelers who, in the coming years, want to make their way along the Via Francigena in Italy during the celebration of Easter, we want to remind you that you will be able to attend different celebrations. Let’s take a look at some of the main ceremonies that take place in Tuscany.
The Holy Week
Easter, called “Pasqua” in Italian, is a very important holiday for the inhabitants of the Bel Paese, and certainly a great occasion to learn more about the religious and cultural traditions of this country. This holiday is celebrated all over the world and is central to the Catholic Church as it represents the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ. Throughout Italy there are many processions and rituals celebrating this crucial moment. After the period of Lent, the Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday and ends the week after on Easter Sunday. This year respectively on March 28 and April 4.
After Holy Thursday, when the Last Supper is commemorated with the Eucharist, comes Good Friday, the day of mourning. On that day the Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth is remembered with processions and Stations of the Cross. Between the night of Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday, the return to life of Jesus is celebrated.
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Easter traditions in 2021
The traditions we will talk about below are celebrated in Tuscany, although not exactly on the Via Francigena. However, most of the villages we are talking about are very close to the millenary pilgrimage itinerary and it is possible to go there to enjoy these unique celebrations. It should not be forgotten that also in the rest of Italy, and especially in Rome, the celebrations and events during Holy Week are very important. The Pope normally celebrates mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, accompanied by thousands of faithful. This, as we know, was not possible in 2020, and the images of the Pope celebrating the Via Crucis alone in a completely empty St. Peter’s Square (and not as usual in the Colosseum), were seen worldwide.
This year 2021 things will not be “normal” either, since the whole of Italy will be in the red zone from April 3 to 5, including Easter Sunday and Monday “dell’Angelo”. The measures to try to contain the increase of contagions, that is currently hitting the country, foresee the possibility of only one trip per day between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. Moreover, it will be possible to attend mass only in a church near one’s own home, obviously following the sanitary measures of prevention. Limited seating capacity, self-certification (declaring not to have covid or symptoms of covid), masks and social distance. For the elderly and the most vulnerable, it is recommended to participate in this function from home, by connecting in streaming to the platforms that reproduce the celebrations in order to avoid possible contagions.
While waiting for this to be the last Easter that we have to be separated and stay at home, we want to tell you some of the most original easter traditions in Tuscany.
Between Florence and Siena, there is this little village called San Casciano. During Easter, they celebrate this festival called Sepolcro delle Vecce. This celebration has remained the same for centuries. The inhabitants have never stopped celebrating it, not even after the Second Vatican Council in the 60’s. The churches of Suffragio and la Misericordia represent the passage of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The floral compositions made for this event are splendid.
This ornaments are made of vetch and wheat, mixed with other seasonal flowers and plants. For example, gardenias, daisies, begonias, azaleas, hydrangea and geraniums. The presence of the vetch, that is known as a “poor flower”, is connected to San Casciano tradition. In fact, it is planted one month before the third Sunday of Lent. After that, it is kept on a storage room, as the wet atmosphere benefits its blooming. It is used as a traditional ornament, both symbolic and religious. This flower has some white threads, that symbolize the death of Jesus Christ. Instead, wheat represents his resurrection.
The Holy Thursday Procession
There are other Easter traditions in la Via Francigena, like the one that can be seen in Castiglione de Garfagnana (in the Province of Lucca). There, there is a very popular procession on the Holy Thursday, called Processione dei Crocioni. This ceremony stands out because of one distinctive feature: the penitent dressed up as Jesus Christ, with his chains and the cross on the back. He walks through the streets, followed by the devoted believers.
It is also very interesting the ceremony that can be seen in Chianciano Terme. This procession has been organized the same way for the last 30 years. It starts at 21:30, on the Holy Friday. The procession passes through all the streets of the village, until it reaches the outer part of the walls. It is called Antica Giudeata. More than 150 people take part in this procession. They are dressed up, performing the main characters of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the Virgin Mary and Poncio Pilatos.
The Holy Friday in Grassina
There is another ceremony that takes places during the Holy Friday, in Grassina, 15 minutes far from Florence. It represents the passion of the Christ, and more than 500 people take part on it. This procession is more than 300 years old, and it passes through the central streets of Grassina. There is religious music, narrations about the life of Jesus, finishing with his crucifixion. The same day, in the lovely village of Pienza, there is a similar procession with 12 characters. They walk hooded, barefooted, wearing torches. Always accompanied by the traditional music.
Still in Tuscany, there is another ancient tradition, that is called the Scoppio del Carro (the explosion of the cart) at the Duomo Square (Piazza del Duomo) in Florence. It takes place on Easter Sunday. This celebration congregates thousands of spectators every year, as it is a very special ritual (almost 400 years old!). The cart, also called “Brindellone”, was done for the first time in 1622, and it is like a high tower (2 or 3 floors) that is dragged by oxes along the streets of Florence. Until it gets to the area between the Baptistery and the Cathedral.
This tradition has two origins: historic and religious. It is said that a young man called Pazzino (who was a member of a noble family, called “Pazzi”), was sent to the first Crusade of the Holy War in 1099. There, he proved to be very brave. Back from the Crusade, Pazzino brought with him three stones, that are still kept as a precious religious treasure in the city of Florence. They are guarded at the Church of SS. Apostoli. It is quite important to remember that this ceremony, nowadays, is celebrated the same way as on its origins. Following the same rituals.
It starts at 10 am. The priest scrubs the silex stones against each other, and the spark lights on the Easter candle. After that, the Easter candle will light the coal inside the cart. The processions goes across the streets of Florence, and delivers the Holy Fire in the archbishopric, in front of the Duomo, in Santa Maria del Fiore. This procession is enliven, the whole time, by percussionists, people bringing the flags with their historical customs. The procession is also followed by the public servants of Florence, and clergy representatives..
Around 11 am, once the cart arrives to the Cathedral, it stops and stays outside until the mass starts. Inside the Duomo, the Archbishop lights fire (with the Holy Fire) to a pigeon-shaped firework. It is called Colombina, and represents the Holy Spirit. The Colombina flies out of the church, over a thread, until it reaches the cart where all the rest of the fireworks are placed. This leads to the explosion of the cart (which is why the ritual is called this way).
The perfect explosion of the cart and all the fireworks, used to represent a great harvest during that year.
A similar performance, but on a reduced scale, is held about 20 minutes from Florence, in Rufina. It starts in Piazza Umberto (the main square in Ruffina) at 11:30 am. It is an ancient tradition that has evolved throughout the years, to this amazing fireworks we have nowadays.
In Italy, the day after Easter Sunday is called Pasquetta or Monday of the Angel (Lunedì dell’Angelo), and is a very important day too (a bank holiday in Italy). Italians usually spend Holy Monday with their families, and it is very popular to go on a picnic, outdoors, or just go for a walk if the weather is nice. If you would like to follow the tradition, you can go to one of the local markets (like San Agostino or San Lorenzo in Florence) and buy some food to go on a picnic. There are many parks in the city to do so, like la Cascine.
There is another tradition on the Holy Monday, very popular for kids, called Egg Hunting on the Gardens. It is way to honor the beauty of the Italian gardens, and there are many egg huntings taking place throughout the whole country.
Moreover, there are three main gardens in Tuscany that have joined an initiative called: Hunting the Botanical Treasure in the Italian Gardens. Usually the gardens are: Giardino Bardini (Florencia), Giardino Storico Garzoni (Collodi) y Parco della Villa Reale di Marlia (Lucca).
Easter on la Via Francigena is a great occasion to discover the Bel Paese. Its traditions, its gastronomy…. Among the most typical dishes, we can mention lamb, eggs (normal eggs and chocolate eggs!), and pies. For example, Torta Pasqualina. The most popular dessert on the Holy Week is called Colomba.
If you want to know more about Easter traditions on the Camino de Santiago, don’t miss this post! Please do not hesitate to contact us if you want to learn more about la Via Francigena, or if you want any information about our walking and cycling tours.