Sunday, April 17, 2011

Easter Rites in Northern Lazio

The small towns in the territory north of Rome, previously the Papal States,  are an antropologist's dream for many ancient ceremonies connected to the rites of Easter  still happen here each year.

One of the oldest  is the traditional visit  to the sepulchres - sepolcri - which takes  place on Holy Thursday.
How many  of  my readers remember    visiting   seven different  churches on this evening  as children ?

Check out the dark, underground crypts of churches like San Francesco in Vetralla  and you will see these archaic "crops".
sepolcri  grow in the dark crypt of San Francesco, Vetralla

About  a month ago vases with wads of moist cotton were sprinkled  with seeds  and grains  and then kept in the dark until the seeds  sprouted.  These sepolcri range in color from white filaments to light green and red, depending on which type of seeds were sown.
 They are the perfect symbol for the Christian Easter  celebration of  resurrection and also  connect the local population with  its  Etruscan   heritage.
San Francesco, Vetralla, crypt 
The use of the sepolcri dates to pre-Christian times  and  symbolizes   the renewal of life in the spring.
 See the story on my website about the recent discovery of the  sanctuary of goddess Demetra in Vetralla. 

Good Friday  procession  of barefoot penitents in Tuscania
  The many processions which take place   on Good Friday  night at  9 p.m. are another ancient ritual  still to be seen in the towns of Orte, Bagnaia near Viterbo and Blera

 In this last town  the procession consists of groups of black-garbed  men and women  chanting ancient litanies (a use found only  in the town of Blera) as they proceed along  candle lit alleyways, and  horsemen  dressed  as Roman soldiers . 
It  concludes  with a realistic crucifixion  scene in front  of the main church.
Photo of the procession  in Tuscania  courtesy of Agostino Cecchini. More about local Easter  rituals  in "Etruria-travel, history and itineraries  in Central Italy".

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