I was drawn back to the fact that this is ”la settimana Santa” by one of my students in a business English class at the paint factory who informed me that “Christ will be washing my feet this Thursday”. Of course, he was referring to one of the representations of Christ’s passion which will take place with great vividness and involvement in many parts of Italy during Holy Week. My student was part of the Massa Rosa pageant and was re-enacting the passage in St John’s gospel chapter 13. The washing isn’t just an exercise in good hygiene: it also symbolizes Christ’s washing away of mankind’s sin. Similar ceremonies exist, not only in other parts of Italy but also, under different religions in the rest of the world. The significance remains the same however – a purification of the soul by cleansing it of earthly pollution. For those who prefer something more dramatic there is nothing in this part of the country to beat the Calvary procession (processione dei crocioni) at Castiglione di Garfagnana on Maundy Thursday. We have been to this a couple of times and the effect is impressive. A hooded Christ (it is considered presumptuous to show who the person actually is impersonating Christ – although the majority of locals recognize who he is) carries a very heavy cross on his shoulders as part of the “via dolorosa” through the narrow and steep streets of this enchanting walled town at dusk, with only the light from flaming torches lighting the way. Visibly worn out, often bleeding from his bare feet on sharp cobbles, with shoulders heavily bruised by the chaffing of the wood and flogged by merciless centurions the white hooded Christ returns to the beautiful Romanesque Pieve where he anonymously disappears and the crowd, which have followed him around the town chanting religious songs and prayers, join the priest for the mass.
Here are some pictures from 2004 when we first attended this extraordinary event: