They are so many ancient traditional holidays in Italy, especially in Spring and Summer. One of the most famous is the Festa dei Ceri in Gubbio, a town of Umbria. This catholic celebration takes place every year on the 15 May to honour the city’s patron saint, Sant’Ubaldo Baldassini, and dates back to Middle-Age.
Ceremonies occur all the day but the most important and impressive moment is the “Corsa dei Ceri” (the Ceri’s race). The “cero” is a four-meter sculpted wood pillar standing on a H-shaped wood board which can be carried by people on their shoulder. Each structure weighs almost 300kg. They are three “ceri” and a little statue of a Saint is fixed on the top of each one: Sant’Ubaldo, San Giorgio and Sant’Antonio.
The men having the honour to carry the pillar are from Gubbio and are called “ceraioli”. They all dress the same way: white trousers, a red stripe used as a belt and a red scarf on the shoulders. Only the shirt colour changes according to which team they belong: yellow for Sant’Ubaldo, blue for San Giorgio and black for Sant’Antonio. In the past, the team choice depended on the man’s profession and guild. Nowadays, one can freely choose his favourite Saint but it remains nevertheless linked to family traditions.
The morning before the race, all the inhabitants of Gubbio, dressed with their Saint’s colours, gather on the Piazza Grande to see the “Alzata dei Ceri” (the raising of the Ceri). At this moment, the person in charge of each pillar, who is called the “capodieci”, stands on the horizontal wood structure, tosses a jug in the public which breaks on the floor and throws himself forward in order for the pillar to rise vertically. He’s fortunately helped by all the “ceraioli” of his team.
The 8 men carrying the pillar walk three times around the square and the procession begins when each pillar follows its own itinerary in the city center, sometimes stopping by the houses of old “ceraiole” families. The structures are then set down in the Savelli street and all the ceraioli and other personalities of the day go have lunch at the Palazzo dei Consoli to regain strenghts.
The real race begins at 6pm. The departure is given by two “capitani” who precede the pillars on their horses and are responsible for the good proceedings of the race. The goal is not to arrive first, because the ceri don’t have the right to overtake one another and must always arrive in the same order at the Basilica di Sant’Ubaldo (Sant’Ubaldo, San Giorgio and Sant’Antonio). The purpose is rather to run the faster they can, not to fall or lose the equilibrium and to not touch walls and windows in the most narrowed streets.
The course is really difficult, with uphill and downhill slopes and the carriers alternate during the race in order to rest a little. The crowd supports them the whole time and must be careful to give them space because the ceri are going really fast. The arrival is quite spectacular too because they have to make the pillar go down to pass through the Basilica’s portal while they are still running.
The Festa dei Ceri should soon become part of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. So in you want to live an intense day and feel as if you came back to Middle-Age along with the inhabitants of Gubbio, wi suggest you to get there the next 15 May!
For more informations on this event, visit the official website of the Festa dei Ceri.
This post is also available in: Italian