Festival Friday is back! Today we would like to share with you a photo story of one of the best festivals we’ve been to; la Festa dei Ceri di Gubbio, a beautiful town in Central Italy.
Imagine one of those picturesque Italian villages, cobbled streets and winding roads on a hillside. Green hills and pastures, cypress-lined roads and a church on top of a hill. Throw into the mix a street festival unlike any other, a show of skill and precision, the culmination of years of planning and practise. And, of course, copious amounts of wine and merriment. Sounds great, right?
Ceri di Gubbio – what’s that about?
La Festa dei Ceri takes place in Gubbio, every year on May 15th, the day of Gubbio’s patron, St Ubaldo. The ceri are three octagonal-shaped wooden structures, each of them dedicated to a different saint. Teams of young men, dubbed ceraioli, carry the structures on their shoulders. Citizens and ceraioli don a uniform for the day; white trousers, a red kerchief and sash, shirts of different colours, depending on the cero they support. Yellow is St Ubaldo’s colour, blue is St George’s and black is St Anthony’s.
The celebration begins with the alzata, the moment in which the ceri are raised from horizontal to vertical position. A spectacular feat, considering that the ceri are raised by hand, despite being 200 years old and weighing more than 400 kilos.
We watched the event in the public square, surrounded by thousands of locals and supporters. The captain of each team threw a big terracotta jug into the floor, smashing it into pieces.
Then, like giants waking from a year’s slumber, the ceri were raised. The sequence of movements was precisely calculated; a minor mistake could cause irreparable damage. When the ceri were finally up, the crowd erupted with cheers.
After a morning parade, and a few hours of post-lunch drowsiness, it was time for the Corsa dei Ceri. The teams of ceraioli, ceri on their shoulders, ran from Gubbio’s main square all the way to the church of St Ubaldo, overlooking the city on top of a hill.
It was a race that wasn’t a race at the same time: the teams ran at top speed through narrow alleyways and hairpin bends, one switchback after another; but the ceri weren’t competing against one another. The order of arrival is set; the first cero to enter the church is always St Ubaldo, followed by the blue banners of St George and St Anthony in black.
The tradition dates back to the XII century, when Ubaldo was the Bishop of Gubbio. Every year, carrying the ceri up Mount Ingino, the citizens of Gubbio repeat the pilgrimage undertaken for the first time on May 15th, 1160, when they climbed to the Church on top of the mountain carrying candles, to be close to their Bishop in the moment of his death.
Ceri in Italian means ‘candles’; nobody knows when they were replaced with octagonal wooden pillars. After the bishop became a Saint, no year has gone past in Gubbio without ceri. Women carried them in wartime; men carried them in the trenches of World War I and the battlefields of Libya. Since 1909, there is even a ceri celebration in Pennsylvania, started by immigrants from Gubbio who brought with them the pride for their traditions and a bond with the motherland.
Ceri di Gubbio Practical Info
The Festa dei Ceri takes place every year on May 15th. It is advisable to book accommodation well in advance, as the festival is very popular and rooms fill quickly.
The alzata takes place at 11am in Gubbio’s main square. Get there by 9 to secure a spot. After, follow the morning parade and take a rest, but make sure to be back in town for the corsa, starting at 5pm. Ask locals or the tourist info office for the best vantage point to watch the race.
Scroll down for more Ceri di Gubbio pics!