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  • Festa dei Ceri

    By Anthony Parente

    Festa dei Ceri
    On the eve of the anniversary of the death of Saint Ubaldo, which is May 15th, the town of Gubbio celebrates their patron saint with the Festa dei Ceri. This annual festival attracts over 100,000 people and it is one of the most exciting, unique and oldest traditions in Italy.

    The feast goes back centuries and researchers have debates over which in fact is the true origins. Some scholars believe this is a pagan ceremony in honor of Ceres, goddess of agriculture, grain crops, fertility and motherhood. While others believe that this was a result of the townspeople paying tribute to Bishop Ubaldo Baldassini of Gubbio who died on May 16th, 1160, and was canonized on March 4th, 1192, by Pope Celestine III. The Bishop was beloved by the citizens and in his honor, they held a candlelight procession and have been doing. Since that year on the eve of his death they have held this procession.

    The Ceri are three wooden structures that each have two octagonal prisms. The top is capped with a statue of a saint. One for Saint Ubaldo (protector of bricklayers), Saint George (protector of merchants) and Saint Anthony (protector of peasants). Each candle is nearly 5 meters (16 feet) tall and weighs approximately 300 kg (≈ 661 pounds). All participants are dressed in white pants, a red sash tied at the waist and a red scarf around the neck. They wear a colored shirt according to the group they belong to (yellow for Saint Ubaldo, blue for Saint George and black for Saint Anthony). These colors are on display throughout the city and worn by spectators as well to show their support.

    At noon in the Piazza Grande is the Alzata dei Ceri (Raising of the Ceri). This is when the Cero, stretcher and statue are finally attached. The Cero is held in a horizontal position. The Ceraioli affix the statue to the top of the Cero using an iron spike as the three Capodieci (head of the Cero) climb onto the shafts of their Cero securing it to the stretcher with an iron spike as well. With the ceramic jug filled with water the Capodieci douses the wood to ensure it is firmly attached. Then he flings the jug into the crowd where it shatters and people rush to get a shard from the jug, which is considered good luck. When the Secondo Capitano gives the signal the Capodieci push down on one end of the stretcher and the Ceraioli quickly raise the Cero into a vertical position and hoist it on their shoulders. The piazza is filled with people and there is very little room to move, but the sea of people part as the Ceri are carried around the pole in the center of the square three times then paraded around town.

    The race does not take place until 6pm and is broken down into four sections and covers about 4km (2.5 miles) with most of the race either going downhill or uphill. It is a test of endurance and strength to ensure the Ceri remain as vertical as possible all while avoiding any falls. The race order is always Saint Ubaldo, Saint George and Saint Anthony. The race starts at the Chiesa dei Neri and continues all the way to the Basilica di Sant'Ubaldo situated at the top of Monte Ingino. For the safety of the participants and the Cero, Ceraioli are changed every 75 yards, and this is done all while still running at top speed, which is an impressive feat. There are unwritten rules that are always followed. The main one is the Ceri cannot pass each other. Should there be a fall by one of the Cero everyone must wait. The Ceri must run as fast as possible. You can probably figure out that the order they started in is also the order they will finish. Afterall the race is to honor Saint Ubaldo, so it is only fitting.

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