More things to experience in Umbria…
Umbria is so culturally rich in tradition that there is always a celebration or re-enactment taking place somewhere. This time it’s the race of the giant wooden candlesticks in Gubbio in May!!! Sounds crazy (indeed Gubbio boasts of its “fontana dei matti” – fountain of the madmen – it’s possible to get a certificate!!) but the Gubbians take this race deadly seriously.
Combine a trip to Gubbio with a stay at the beautiful Villa Bastiola and enjoy the best that Umbria has to offer!
The origins of this feast dates back centuries like so many celebrations in Umbria. Some scholars trace it back to pagan ceremonies in honor of the goddess Ceres. Still others speculate on 1154, celebrations after the victory of Gubbio against 11 allied cities. But the most likely idea is to celebrate Ubaldo Badassini, Bishop of Gubbio in the twelfth century, and the city’s Patron Saint, Saint Ubaldo.
St. Ubaldo, beloved by the people, died May 16th of 1160, and all the citizens made a pilgrimage with lit candles. Since then a procession takes place every year on the Eve of his death, on May 15th, with the offering of votive candles by the Guilds of Arts and Crafts. It is written in the Statum Eugubii of 1338, that the members of the the richest guilds, the Muratori (Masons), Merciai (Haberdashers) and Vetturari (“Taxi Drivers”), “went Iubilantes et gaudentes with three Cereos Magnos of wood, covered with wax”.
The Cereos Magnos of Wood, the Ceri, are the highlight of todays festivities. That is the Corsa dei Ceri, one of the wildest, craziest events in Italy! A minor detail: it is uphill.
The Ceri are three tall, heavy wooden candlesticks topped respectively wtih statues of St. Ubaldo (the patron of the Muratori), St. George (protector of Merciai) and St. Anthony Abbot (Asinari and protector of peasants, students today also). Each weighs about 300/400 kg! The Ceri are fixed on “H” stretchers which the ceraioli (10 for each “manicchia” or shaft) carry on their shoulders running through the streets of the city to the Basilica of St. Ubaldo, on the summit of Mount Ingino behind Gubbio.
Every 70 meters (maximum distance traveled by a man, both for his physical safety than for that of the Cero) there is a “muta”, a relay with a change of carriers.
Celebrations start at 11:45 in Piazza Grande. When the bell in the Palazzo dei Consoli tolls, the Ceri are raised (“Alzata dei Ceri”). The team leader (Capodieci) jumps up on his Cero, fixes it firmly to the stretcher and crowns it with the statue of the saint.
Later, the race begins – the Corsa dei Ceri – over 4km through the narrow streets and ups and downs of Gubbio. The Ceri have to run at maximum possible speed. When they arrive in Piazza Grande they have to circle the Piazza three times and often the Ceri can topple over! It is a mad rush, but it is not a race, as Sant’Ubaldo must always lead and get into the Basilica first with the doors closing behind.
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