The Easter Week in Sicily
A journey through the most impressive rites and traditions of the Holy Week.
Between the sacred and the profane, between processions and representations, Sicily is certainly one of the most popular destinations for tourists when it comes to Easter celebrations.
Full of folkloristic events that follow one another during Holy Week, the calendars of the region are full of surprises in both small and large Sicilian cities.
Catholic Procession Holy Week Easter Sicily (foto © shutterstock.com)
In commemoration of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ, the celebrations that characterise Sicily have very ancient origins and have been handed down through the centuries from generation to generation, so that the modern spectator can travel back in time and rediscover the bond that binds man to his homeland.
The solemnity of the ceremonies is unbelievable, above all because of the great participation of the faithful, who effectively interpret the feelings of pain and joy over the death and resurrection of Christ, and manage to emotionally involve the spectators, who are enchanted by the colours of the scenery and the costumes.
Easter in Sicily, Good Friday, The statue of Addolorata is carried into the cathedral of Enna. (foto © Marco Crupi / Shutterstock.com)
One of the most impressive celebrations is Holy Week, which takes place every year in Enna, in the Sicilian hinterland, declared by UNESCO to be worthy of protection and dating back to the time of Spanish rule.
All the fraternities represented in the town take part in the events, each with its own hierarchy and with different locations between the upper and lower parts of the town.
The celebrations begin on Palm Sunday with the blessing and distribution of olive branches and the three-day Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament by the various brotherhoods in the Cathedral of Enna.
On Wednesday the Blessed Sacrament is publicly blessed and on Thursday the faithful devote themselves to visiting the decorated “Altari della Reposizione” in the various churches.
The climax of the week is on Good Friday with the “Processione degli Incappucciati” procession of the hoods, in which 2,500 confessors are dressed in the traditional robes and with a hood that bears the colours of the fraternity to which they belong.
Starting from the Cathedral, the confessors have the task of leading the faithful in a procession until late at night, lighting their way with candles and carrying the symbols of Jesus’ martyrdom.
The week ends with the Procession of “Peace”, which celebrates the encounter between Our Lady and the Risen Christ.
Easter in Sicily, Enna’s Good Friday, the Addolorata, the mourning Mary, is carried in procession. (foto © Marco Crupi / Shutterstock.com)
The Holy Week of Caltanissetta is also full of events, which is transformed into a majestic open-air theatre.
The festivities begin on Sunday with the procession of the Nazarene Jesus, who is on a boat full of flowers to celebrate his arrival in Jerusalem, and continue on Monday and Tuesday, where the representations of the last days of Christ are shown.
On Wednesday there is the “Procession of the Real Maestranza”, a procession in which 400 people take part and which is led by the “Captain”, who is elected annually among the representatives of the craft categories and is still dressed in traditional 16th-century costume.
At sunset, the procession of the Real Maestranza is joined by the Procession of the Varicedde, where the boys of the city, previously excluded from the official celebrations, carry in procession small sacred groups.
The most awaited moment of the week is Maundy Thursday with the apparition of the sixteen Vares in the Processione dei Misteri, huge, richly decorated floats that run through the streets of the city, imposing sculptures in wood, plaster and papier-mâché, carved by the Biangardi, famous Neapolitan artists.
Friday is the day of the “Cristo Nero” Black Christ of the city, who is carried in a procession on the shoulders of the Fogliamari, ancient wild herb hunters, walking barefoot in a sad silence. On Easter Sunday the great procession of the Vare takes place.
Procession “La processione delle Vare” Easter Sunday in Caltanissetta, Sicily. Italy. (foto © Pecold / Shutterstock.com)
Not to be missed is Easter Sunday in Prizzi, famous for the traditional dance of the devils and recognised as one of the most evocative celebrations.
With a mixture of the sacred and the profane, the town prepares itself with elegant decorations to stage the eternal battle between good and evil with the encounter between the statues of Our Lady of Sorrows, accompanied by two angels, and the Risen Christ, surrounded by three figures dressed in red and yellow representing devils and death.
On the streets of the city, the devils have the task of frightening and corrupting the spectators, so that they give up their souls, metaphorically dragging them to hell and demanding a ransom for their deliverance.
The devils will try several times to prevent the encounter between mother and son with a folkloristic dance, but they will be killed by the angelic protectors of Our Lady.
Ballo dei Diavoli, the devils dance. Easter celebrations in Prizzi, Sicily (foto © Terje Lillehaug / Shutterstock.com)
Another famous event is the Processione dei Misteri (Procession of the Mysteries) of Trapani, which takes place on Good Friday and is one of the oldest traditions in Sicily.
For about 24 hours, the members of the various town corporations carry on their shoulders in a procession 18 groups of sculptures representing the life of Jesus from the Passion to the Resurrection.
The name of the procession is derived from the ancient professions of the various guilds, called “Misteri” in the Sicilian dialect.
The Processione dei Misteri di Trapani has been held in Trapani, Sicily at Easter for over 300 years. (foto © Emily Marie Wilson / Shutterstock.com)
Palermo, the Sicilian capital, also organises a Holy Week full of events such as the holy representations of the Last Supper and the “visit to the tombs”, which takes place every Holy Thursday and includes the opening of the churches until late at night so that the faithful can gather for prayer.
However, the most eagerly awaited moment of the week is Friday, with four processions that wind through the streets of the city, all of which have been studied in detail and gather hundreds of participants.
The first procession, known as the “Coachman”, which dates back to the time of the flourishing Palermo nobility and is now extended to all social classes, consists of carrying in procession the statues of the dead Christ and the Madonna, who rests on the shoulders of 32 men in hand-forged medieval armour.
The second procession is that of the “Bakers”, which follows the first one with the difference that it wears Roman armour and ends late at night with a beautiful religious rite.
Easter celebrations in the city of Palermo in Sicily, Italy. Good Friday procession through the historic old town. (foto © Andreas Zerndl / Shutterstock.com)
The third procession carries the Virgin of Soledad through the city and the last one is led by the craftsmen who honour the Madonna del Lume.
The processions follow each other all day long and the best place to admire them is the Quattro Canti in the centre of the town, where all four processions pass in perfect sequence.
Easter celebrations in Piana degli Albanesi The people here are of Albanian origin and celebrate the traditional Albanian Easter. (foto © Terje Lillehaug / Shutterstock.com)
If you are in Palermo, you must not miss the Byzantine Easter processions, which take place in the Piana degli Albanesi, just 20 minutes by car from the Sicilian capital.
This city was founded around the 15th century, when Albanians and Greeks fled their Ottoman lands to seek refuge on the island. Here the celebration of Pashkët, the traditional Byzantine Easter, has remained intact.
Easter in the Albanian plain is characterised by the sad Greek-Byzantine song “lazeri”, which is sung by the young people of the village throughout Holy Week and which can be heard in all its splendour on Good Friday when the passages of the Gospel are sung as they pass through the last days of Christ’s life.
Holy Week in Sicily. Easter procession, Greek-Byzantine rite, dressed in the traditional Albanian costumes. Piana Degli Albanesi. (foto © Lucky Team Studio / Shutterstock.com)
The climax of the celebrations is Holy Thursday, when the priest, who embodies Saint Peter, agrees to be completely washed by the bishop, and Easter Sunday, when more than 300 women in traditional 1400s dress parade through the village streets.
Cioccolato di Modica, Sicily, Italy. (foto © Shutterstock.com)
Having discovered the most folkloristic religious rendezvous that characterize Sicily, we cannot fail to talk about the varied gastronomy, mainly made up of sweets, which offers dozens of traditional recipes in honour of Easter. You must try the Pecorella di Pasta Reale, a typical dessert made with almond flour and sugar, shaped like a sheep sitting in a meadow and made with chocolate and sugared almonds of all colours. In Prizzi we find the Cannatedde, boiled eggs surrounded by short pastry made with different shapes such as baskets or doves and distributed during the processions, usually decorated with icing or coloured sugared almonds. Also delicious are the Cassatelle di Trapani, ravioli-shaped cakes made of short pastry filled with ricotta cream and chocolate, served fried.
Traditionally in the Byzantine culture are the red eggs: they are distributed during the women’s parade and get their characteristic colour by cooking them with water, vinegar and beetroot.
Once cooked, they are polished with olive oil and decorated with food colours.
Probably the most famous dish on the island is cassata, originally from Palermo, which is considered the most exquisite dessert of the Easter season. Prepared with short pastry and filled with ricotta cream, decorated with candied fruit and icing, this traditional recipe dates back to the time of Arab rule.
And finally, how can we forget the Easter eggs! Modica eggs are famous all over the world and are available in every pastry shop and supermarket. The special chocolate of Modica is produced according to an old and proven Aztec method. It is made entirely by hand by cold grinding the cocoa beans with cinnamon, sugar and vanilla to obtain a uniform paste characterised by a particular granular texture given by sugar crystals.
As for the salty dishes, there are many recipes, such as the Taganu of Aragon, a dish based on meat and pasta that celebrates the end of the deprivations imposed by Lent.
There are many surprises that this country has to offer, and now all that remains is to book a plane ticket and set off to discover the spectacular Easter in Sicily.
Cassata and Cannoli (foto © Shuttertock.com)
Piana degli Albanesi