Similar to a lot of Christians around the world, some communities in Umbria, Italy have their own unique ways and traditional activities when it comes to the religious celebration of the Holy Week. As the region in Italy known for its remnants of medieval history, structures and culture, experiencing the sacred week in Umbria could be an exciting experience.
Holy Week Celebration in Assisi
Known as the birthplace of one of Italy’s patron saints, St. Francis (1181 – 1226), the town of Assisi in Umbria seems to lead the region in its observance of the Holy Week as the center of activities beginning from Palm Sunday to Easter. Assisi is home to the Basilica of St. Francis, and along with its powerful spiritual atmosphere, sanctuary-museum, and medieval town atmosphere, it provides the perfect venue for tourists and pilgrims during the Holy Week.
Similar to a lot of Catholic celebrators of the Holy Week, the celebration in Assisi begins in Palm Sunday with the blessing of the olive branches in the town’s basilica and churches. The Cathedral of San Rufino takes center stage as the venue of the Mass of Christ where the holy oils are blessed. Other Holy Thursday activities the remembrance of the Last Supper and the adoration of Jesus in the tabernacle is still celebrated in most churches in the city.
Reliving the Passion of Jesus
One of the highlights of Holy Week activities in Assisi, as well as in many of the surrounding Umbrian towns, is the sacred Via Crucis. It is a Holy Week tradition where the life, martyrdom, and sacrifice of Jesus Christ is relived through live demonstrations. The tradition is celebrated in the towns of Gubbio, Fossato di Vico, Sigillo, Cascia, Todi, Gualdo Tadino, Montefalco, Perugia, Terni, and Norcia.
The town of Assisi, holds a traditional procession carrying the form of Christ right from the beautiful Cathedral de San Rufino, passing by some cloistered monasteries. The procession ends at the Basilica of San Francesco. After the arrival of the body in the Basilica, the “Three Hours of Agony” is celebrated from noon to 3 pm to commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. This procession dates from the medieval period where participants could easily imagine the streets lit up only by the light of candles and torches.
Easter Celebrations in Umbria
The celebration of Holy Week in Assisi ends with the celebration of Easter beginning with the Easter Sunday Vigil, where participants stay awake for most of the night in prayer and meditation. This leads to the highlight of the celebration with the Easter Mass, where the iconic paschal candle burns until the ceremony of Ascension day which commemorates Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
During Easter, Umbrians eat their traditional Easter breakfast composed of cold cuts like capocollo, boiled eggs, chocolate, and Easter cheesecake. Other Umbrian towns celebrate Easter with the world tradition of Easter egg hunting. Some other forms of games and activities are played in town squares such as egg races and egg hitting games. The winners receive the eggs of their opponents and are included in the menu for the family banquet later in the day.