Traditions are an integral part of life in Italy. Here at Bellaugello Gay Guest House we live in beautiful countryside close to the medieval town of Gubbio which is full of tradition. Every year on 15th of May the city celebrates a festa of new life, the “Festa dei Ceri”. Tradition is strong and the draw to this spectacular event is huge.
Dating back centuries, with origins in pagan culture the Festa dei Ceri is held as the oak trees burst forth in new leaf and crops begin to sprout. The roots of the festa are as a fertility celebration, a festa of new life, the hope for a bountiful summer, and one to which we at Bellaugello always go.
The three ‘Capodieci’ or captains are woken early by trumpeters and men on horseback and as the crowds appear everyone gravitates to the Piazza Grande, the hanging terrace high in the medieval city. Drummers and trumpeters in bright costume herald the start of the ‘Alzata’ the raising of the three ‘candles’, before they are progressed round the ancient piazzas, streets and alleyways.
For fifty weeks of the year the three ceri live in the basilica at the top of the hill that dominates this central Italian town. The first Sunday of May sees them progressed down the hill to the ‘Palazzo dei Consoli’, the old town hall where they repose horizontally until the 15th of the month. There are three, S Ubaldo the patron saint of the city, whose team wear golden shirts; S Giorgio, the saint of the merchants, whose supporters wear blue shirts; and S Antonio, the saint of the peasant farmers and country-dwellers, his team in black shirts. All three teams have white pants with red sashes and neckerchiefs. Neckerchiefs are knotted with a small posy of wild flowers gathered from the hedgerows.
As the great bell in the tower tolls, turned by hand and foot by a courageous team the ceri exit the palazzo horizontally and are fixed into the huge supports that are later raised shoulder high to carry the ceri round the town.
The three saints are carried out of the palazzo and fixed to the tops of their cero. Next are carried out large ceramic jugs made specially for the occasion and filled with wine. Gubbio has a great tradition of ceramics. After a salute to the town the ceri are then liberally doused with wine by the ‘capodieci‘ who as the photo shows stand on the frames.. Throwing the now empty jugs high over the crowd, the ceri are raised vertically by sheet determination and strength.
The teams run with their cero three times round the flagpole before heading off round the town. As my short video clips shows it is a pageant of colour, movement, men, strength, and passion.
Being Italy, there is then a huge and very liquid lunch. In the late afternoon and into the evening is the race proper. This is when the teams in relay run their cero back up the hill to the basilica. The race is serious and strenuous but a symbolic one. S Ubaldo, as the patron saint of Gubbio always gets to the basilica first. What is important is the distance between the cero and not to let your cero fall. Once at the basilica the great doors are slammed shut the chanting begins. The teams run round in a frenzy in the cloister, almost trance-like. It is a real squeeze and not for the faint hearted!
After the race, the three teams come back to the town as brothers in arms. The race is serious, planned all year. It is testosterone filled and machismo is to the fore, but, above all it is a celebration of being ‘Eugubine’, being from Gubbio and smiles are abundant. Tavernas are opened everywhere, wine flows liberally and food is abundant. Dancing in the streets and partying goes on to the early morning. The generosity of this little town is enormous. All are welcomed warmly.
Back at Bellaugello we too celebrate new life. Yesterday our first owl chick of 2019 flew the nest and landed plop in the flowerbed. We spotted him/her crouching in the irises, and managed to keep the dog well away… Today in soft rain the owlet has vanished, hopefully wings strong enough to carry it to an oak tree branch and to a new life in the woodlands around our home.
The beauty of nature and tradition in this special place that is Bellaugello is sheer magic.