During Settimana Santa, or Holy Week, religious celebrations take place across the island of Sicily. In large towns and tiny villages alike, processions weave their way through narrow streets and piazzas until they arrive at the local church or cathedral. Easter also signals the arrival of spring and many pagan traditions that once marked the arrival of the “beautiful season” have been incorporated into the religious festivities.
Probably the most well-known manifestation of devotion in Sicily is the “Mysteries of Trapani” on Good Friday, in which townsmen carry statues through the streets. Pilgrimages and processions parade through the Sicilian city’s streets, with an enormous following by the people, excited to witness up close the holy portrayals.
Particularly special are the rites dating back hundreds of years and in the case of the Procession of the Mysteries in Trapani, it is the longest religious display in Italy, lasting 24 hours and among the oldest, having been repeated for 400 years.
The Mysteries are 20 artistic representations of the Passion and Death of Christ. Eighteen of the Mysteries are statue groups, while two represent images of the Virgin Mary. The ceremony proceeds through much of the city of Trapani, attended by thousands in an emotional display that has stood the test of time.
The statues of the Mysteries stand on a wooden base called the vara, which is often decorated with flowers. Careful lighting emphasizes the facial expressions of the statues. Each of the Mysteries is carried on the shoulders of ten men (the massari) who move to the music of the band leading the procession, with a particular step called the annaccata. The procession begins at the Baroque-style Church of Anime Sante del Purgatorio at 2:00 pm on Good Friday. The long cortege, after the procession and night of prayers and acts of devotion, concludes with a return to the church at 2:00 pm on Black Saturday.
Each of the Mysteries are made by the various local guilds. The Mysteries in order of the procession are The Separation; The Washing of the Feet; Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane; The Arrest; Jesus falls into the Cedron Brook; Jesus before Hanna; The Denial; Jesus before Herod; The Flagellation; The Crowning with Thorns; Ecce Homo – Jesus Enduring the Crown; The Judgment; The Ascent to Calvary by the People; The Disrobing; The Elevation of the Cross; The Wound to the Chest; Descent from the Cross; The Movement to the Sepulcher and The Sepulcher and The Sorrows.