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Easter in Sicily – between Christianity and Paganism

As in much of Spain, Holy Week unfolds with great intensity in most of Sicily. This comes as no surprise – the processions of penitents commemorating Christ’s Passion and Death were brought to the island by the Spanish in the 16th century.  While they abound across Sicily, the processions that arouse the greatest expectation are those held in villages like Enna and Caltanissetta, both of which lie about an hour’s drive away from Catania.

But all Sicily’s beautiful, timeless villages preserve their deep-rooted traditions, each with its own character. A holiday on the island during Holy Week could combine sightseeing in coastal towns, discovering local architecture and tasting their delicious cuisine. And, during the festivities, the religious guilds stage spectacular Easter processions in which the Baroque aesthetic prevails.

If you want to savour some of these ancient festivals, go to Prizzi on Easter morning. There they celebrate the Ballo dei diavoli (dance of the devils). In this folk tradition from the Middle Ages, death, dressed in yellow, accompanied by devils clad in red, roam the town heckling the passers-by, who can only get rid of their tormentors by giving them a donation. This takes place just when the madonna and child make their entry. This curious form of revelry, a mix of the religious and the profane, represents the eternal struggle between good and evil.

A similar event known as the Diavolatais held in Adrano.The main square or Piazza Umberto provides the backdrop for this battle between good and evil, represented by Lucifer and his devils on one side and St Michael the Archangel on the other.

Another picturesque celebration is the Madonna Vasa Vasa,in Modica, in which the faithful crowd around the floats on their way to the church of St Mary of Bethlehem to witness the traditional bacio di mezzogiorno (the noon kiss) between the Virgin Mary and the resurrected Christ. Vasa means “kiss”. Dressed in mourning, the Madonna is carried through the streets of Modica in search of her son, to the rhythm of drumming. Throughout the procession, the people sing, dance and drink to celebrate the event. While strolling through the winding streets of Modica’s charming historical centre, visitors will eventually come across the striking Baroque architecture in the area around the Castle of the Counts of Modica, listed as a World Heritage site since 2002.

One of the oldest and most enigmatic celebrations is the Procession of the Mysteries, held in the historical centre of Trapani. Full of light and emotion, this procession consists of twenty float groups depicting the Passion and Death of Christ which parade through the streets for 24 hours, starting on Good Friday afternoon. The figures are borne on the shoulders of the massari to the rhythm of a traditional music known as annaccata.

As in all traditional festivities, Holy Week in Sicily has its characteristic confectionery. The colomba pasquale (Easter dove), also known as the palummeddi or pastifuorti, is eaten in the home. This typical sweet is usually shaped like a dove or rooster, although new shapes are emerging all the time. It consists of flour, sugar and cinnamon, topped off with a hard-boiled egg as a symbol of Easter and rebirth. A similar pastry is the cuddura, typical of the Calabria region. Based on flour and water, it is similarly adorned with hard-boiled eggs. The casatta siciliana is another cake eaten at Easter, although it is sold in pastry shops all year around. If you would like to taste some of these delicacies, the best assortment is to be had at Pasticceria Irrera, on the Piazza Cairoli 12 in Messina, and at Caffè Sicilia, on Corso Vittorio Emanuele III, 125 Noto de Siracusa.

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Text by ScannerFM

Image by Clemensfranz, Carmelo Giuseppe Colletti, Rmax75, Giovanni, Traktorminze


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