Settimana Santa – The Holy Week in the Valle d’Itria

The Holy Week is the week from Palm Sunday to Easter. It is packed with age-old rituals, customs and processions, some of which are the same for Catholics all over the world, and some of which are specific for this region. I would like to describe just a few of the customs of the Valle d’Itria, as well as to give a short overview over the main rites that are practised worldwide during this week.

Throughout Puglia you might have seen an effigy of the Quarantana, the lent witch, hanging in the streets. She is depicted as an old women dressed in the black attire of a widow. That is, firstly, because she is the widow of carnival, the festivity ending with the beginning of lent, and secondly because she reminds the passersby on the approaching passion of Christ. At the end of lent, on the eve of Easter, her effigy will be burnt, marking the end of fasting. In Martina Franca the effigy is even shot at before going up in flames.

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The Quarantana in Locorotondo

The Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, the day commemorating the Biblical story in which Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to celebrate Passover there with his disciples. Entering Jerusalem, he was greeted like a king, people laid there cloaks onto the street so that the donkey would step on them, and waved palm leafs. In celebration of that day, palm leafs (or, in Italy actually, olive twigs) are blessed and carried in a procession through the streets. This happens all over the world.

With the nightly processions of Maundy Thursday, the day of the Last Supper, the peak of the ceremonies begins. The most famous one in Puglia takes place in Taranto, but the nightly Processione dell’Addolorata by barefoot, hooded members of several confraternities in Martina Franca, that starts at midnight and goes on unto early morning, is as impressive.

On Venerdì Santo, Holy Friday, the day of Christ’s death on the cross, after the official rites of mourning his death, in the late afternoon, the confraternities of Martina Franca get together for the Processione dei Misteri, carrying 13 statues through the old city in an evocative ceremony.

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Photo: Manoocher Deghati

On Saturday morning, the impressive Processione della Desolata takes place in Canosa, north of Bari, which is outside the Valle d’Itria, but so remarkable that it is worth mentioning it nevertheless: women, and only wonem, entirely veiled in black, express their grieve for the death of Christ in a very sincere procession.

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Photo: Manoocher Deghati
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Photo: Manoocher Deghati

Saturday night, the eve of Easter, sees not only the beforementioned burning of the Quarantana, the lent witch, but also the lighting of the Easter bonfires and the nightly Easter liturgy.

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Photo: Manoocher Deghati

Easter Sunday itself, the day on which the resurrection of Christ is celebrated, is marked by a major culinary family feast. We won’t interfere with that and move on straight to Pasquetta, Easter Monday, which is celebrated by a sumptious picknick in the open.

(Title photo: Manoocher Deghati)

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