Every year on May 15, the town of Gubbio celebrates a festival as old as 8 centuries. Losely translated “Festa dei Ceri” means the Festival of the Candles. But let me tell you that 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 a “Barelle“, each with the wax statue of a Saint.
Festa dei Ceri is Gubbio’s way of honoring its Patron Saint – Ubaldo whose miraculous abilities have always been honored by the town.
Festa dei Ceri involves the entire town and I think that is commendable because it gives a spirit of unity. Every man, woman and child; young or old, upholds the tradition and folklore behind this festival.
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 that around 9-9:30 am people start to gather at the main square of the town called “Piazza Grande”. This is where the Ceri are lifted by their respective teams. The Ceri contain wax statues of each saint. 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 as well as the onlookers.
The octagonal Ceri, which weigh more than 250kgs each, are then taken to different streets of the town. They look quite a sight bobbing around and getting swayed by different hands. Its fabulous to see how the Italians celebrate!!
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 in Italy) that day and since I could not get a hotel in Gubbio, I had to head back to Perugia by 4:00 p.m. 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, which is located on top of Gubbio, in Mount Ingino.
Visiting Gubbio was as if I had traveled back in time. Everything was traditional and done as per the customs and rituals that were followed aeons ago.
In the paper next day, I saw a shot of the festival from above. I was stunned to see it for a minute and it was hard to believe that I really managed to stay intact among all that crowd and chaos!
Points to Note:
- Book a hotel on time. Everything is full by the first week of April.
- As a tourist or a spectator try not to do anything that upsets the locals.
- Always 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. There are no trains to this town.
- Grab a bite before you head to the piazza. My stomach grumbled after 12 p.m.
I planned my entire trip to Italy to just view this festival and I am thrilled and proud to have been involved in something that is so medieval.
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! I could go again someday just to feel it! Also the gothic architecture, Roman theatre, medieval gates add to charming ancient”ness” of the town of Gubbio.