The Medieval "Festa dei Ceri" in Gubbio

Every year on May 15, the town of Gubbio celebrates La Festa dei Ceri. This festival is as old as 8 centuries and loosely translates as Festival of the Candles. But there are no candles in this festival. Instead, you will see huge long wooden sticks or “Ceri” that are part of a wooden base or “Barelle“, each with the wax statue of a Saint.

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Festa dei Ceri, Gubbio
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Festa dei Ceri (Image Credits: Italia.it)

Festa dei Ceri is Gubbio’s way of honoring its Patron Saint- Ubaldo who had miraculous abilities. Festa dei Ceri is when the entire town is involved which is commendable as it gives a spirit of unity. Every man, woman and child; young or old, upholds the tradition and folklore behind this ancient festival.

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Festa dei Ceri, Gubbio

The town is divided in three different teams/groups that can be distinguished by the colors of their clothes:
Saint Ubaldo group wears Yellow
Saint Antonio group wears Black
Saint Georgio group wears Blue

 
At 5:00 a.m. on May 15 every year, there is a mass at the Church after which people gather at “Piazza Grande”. This is where the Ceri are lifted by their respective teams. The Ceri contain wax statues of each saint so once they are lifted, around 11:30 am each team undertakes three laps with their ceri in the Piazza. There is a lot of shouting and merriment for the teams by the onlookers. It’s Festa dei Ceri after all!!

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Festa dei Ceri, Gubbio

The octagonal Ceri, which weigh more than 250kgs each, are then taken to different streets of the town. It looks quite a sight when the Ceri are bobbed and swayed around by different hands. Amazing how the Italians celebrate!!

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Festa dei Ceri, Gubbio
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Festa dei Ceri, Gubbio
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Festa dei Ceri, Gubbio

After some time, each Ceri is rested on a base in Via Savelli della Porta while the teams go for lunch. Unfortunately, after lunch I missed evereything as there was a bus strike in Perugia (yes that happens often in Italy) and I had to head back. However, a few locals that I befriended told me that at around 6:00 p.m, the Ceri return to the Basilica of Saint Ubaldo, located on top of the town of Gubbio, in Mount Ingino. Intriguing isn’t it??

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Festa dei Ceri, Gubbio

Gubbio’s festival was not only eccentric but also intriguing. I wanted to know more because I felt as if I had traveled back in time. Everything was traditional and done as per the customs and rituals that were followed aeons ago!! I would definitely like to go back and see another medieval festival in Italy.


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Festa dei Ceri, Gubbio

In the paper next day, I saw a shot of the festival from above and was stunned to see it for a minute!! It was hard to believe that I really managed to stay intact among all that crowd and chaos! I planned my entire trip to Italy to just see this festival and I am thrilled and proud to have been involved in something that is so medieval!!

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Festa dei Ceri, Gubbio
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Festa dei Ceri, Gubbio

Festa dei Ceri should not be missed if you are going to Italy. The festival attracts a crowd of more than 150,000 every year. The mayhem and spirit is addictive! Also the gothic architecture, Roman theatre, medieval gates add to charming ancient”ness” of the town of Gubbio. 

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Festa dei Ceri, Gubbio

Points to Note:

  • Book a hotel on time. Everything is full by the first week of March.
  • As a tourist/spectator try not to do anything that upsets the locals.
  • Make sure you get a good spot as you may be pushed and shoved especially when the Ceri arrive at the piazza.
  • Check the bus schedule from Perugia as there are no trains to this town.
  • Grab a bite before you head to the piazza.

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Related Reading:

Umbria’s Best Kept Secret
Montegiove: A Hidden Corner of Umbria


{Italophilia}

Ishita is an Indian Blogger who is in love with all things Italian. Every year, Ishita seek’s new experiences and destinations in Italy; from the southernmost tip of Sicilia to the Northern most parts of Piemonte.

Ishita works and lives in Delhi.

33 thoughts on “The Medieval "Festa dei Ceri" in Gubbio

  1. Gubbio is a great town in Umbria. We went when it was snowing one November- quiet and mysterious. The festival looks colourful but a little too crowded for me.

  2. Amazing how many people fit in this Piazza. When we visited Gubbio about 15 years ago, it was a quiet November day and there was no-one besides us. Thanks for bringing back the memories, Ishita! Have a great week! Marcus

  3. There’s a small town in Pennsylvania that is a sister city to Gubbio. It has a race of the Saints as well, and St. Ubaldo, of course, always wins. It’s in what used to be a “coal region” and thus looks nothing like Umbria–the sisterhood is in the hearts and souls of the people.

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