Having arrived in the town of Chieti, we found the free parking reserved for campers; the signs at the car park read something like “Agli accampanare Nomadi”, presumably something about being reserved for nomads/Travellers, which would’ve made us a little nervous if it weren’t for the swanky-looking motorhomes parked around.
We were there to see the Good Friday procession, apparently the most ancient procession tradition in Italy. Every year, local men and children wear spooky-looking white hoods (Yes, I know what they look like…) and bearing torches, accompany floats carried by solemn-looking bearers through the town. The floats represented various stations of the cross — lances, rooster and a severed hand, Christ on the cross, the body of Christ, a mourning Mary — none of which I really understood with my lack of religious education, but Katherine filled in some blanks later on. Particularly promising-sounding was the orchestra and choir that accompanied the procession, who performed Miserere, apparently the work of a local composer, Selecchy (1708-1788).
We found the piazza at the front of the cathedral and milled around with a few hundred others — seemingly almost all locals, we didn’t see any other obvious foreigners there. Participants were all dressed up and chatting, adjusting hoods and shaking their glow-sticks to life (Glow sticks! How could they!).
As the sky began to darken and the cathedral’s bells rang, people shuffled around to face the cathedral’s entrance; those participating were lined up in parish groups. Down the steps came the first station of the cross, borne by men in gold and black — an angel, presumably, although neither of us knew the significance. This was met by the first group who marched onwards, as the next float came down, four or five pikes sticking up.
The procession continued, winding around the piazza and leading down a small side street as we gathered and watched them go. Almost everyone in the crowd around us crossed themselves as the float carrying the body of Christ went past! Finally, the musicians followed, violins, flutes and a variety of brass instruments, and the choir.
There was a sermon in Italian, broadcast through speakers being borne along with the procession, and the orchestra and choir started — quite moving, and impressive with the acoustics of the square.
We followed the crowd down a different street to meet the procession there, and heard another run through of the speech, and another Miserere. We waited at the side of the torch-lined street, noticing others doing the same, for the procession to come back around so we could get a better look. Half an hour or more passed, watching kids race around each other making gzzzsh gun noises at each other, then an amusing scene with a little girl standing and pointing at another girl holding an ice-cream, getting increasingly upset in her envy as the ice-cream bearer returned her gaze nonchalantly. This is where we learn about not always getting what we want!
Police motorcycles cleared the road, and the first of the procession arrived, two rows passing beside us, with the floats in the middle. Kinda creepy, with those masks!
The trailing orchestra reached us, and started up as they walked past.
Those voices belting out right beside us was quite a thing to behold — quite powerful and moving! We shared an impressed glance as they came to an end, then as the crowd dispersed, set off on the walk back home.
That was absolutely awesome! The whole thing felt authentic and genuine, no touristy stuff here, just a fine tradition that we were fortunate enough to get to witness.