Easter Monday in Montone, Umbria
In updating my website, I came across this note on a fascinating festival. Enjoy.
I’ve lived here in Umbria, “Italy’s green heart”, for well over 25 years… and finally this past year was able to attend the celebration of the Sacra Spina (“Sacred Thorn”) in the tiny walled medieval castle-village of Montone, about 25 miles north of Perugia. The festa originates in an age-old local tradition which recounts that in 1473, Count Carlo da Fortebracio of Montone served as a mercenary for the Republic of Venice and was instrumental in helping Venice drive out the Turks. In gratitude, the city magistrates gave him a Sacred Thorn (Sacra Spina) from Christ’s crown of thorns, brought back to Venice by the crusaders. Upon his return to Montone (local legend says that the bells of the city rung on their own as he re-entered the town), Carlo gave the thorn to his town and the townspeople put the sacred object in a reliquary in the Church of St. Francis (every Umbrian town, no matter the size, has a church dedicated to the Saint born in Assisi in Umbria in the 12th c.). Always an object of fervent local devotion, in 1635 the magistrates decided that on every Easter Monday, the Sacra Spina should be celebrated in festivities and the silver reliquary carried in procession. In 1638, the second public veneration annually was declared: the third Sunday in August (and procession on that day is at night… in town lit by torches).
My Italian husband, Pino and I arrived in Montone (built on the hill in the 12th c. with majestic view of valleys below) in the morning just before the start of the procession, joining the locals in the tiny main piazza. The piazza was alive with activity and we sensed the excitement and anticipation among those in the piazza and those in the cafe where we were having cappuccinos. The town crier announced the arrival of the procession, striding through the square in his scarlet cape, reading the official pronouncement from his parchment scroll. Drummers and trumpeters, lords and ladies (leading toddlers by the hand) – all in medieval dress and with an air of great solemnity – preceded the arrival of Count Carlo da Fortebraccio on horseback, bearing the reliquary. With a dramatic speech (in the vulgate Italian of the 15th c.), the Count presented the sacred reliquary to the bishop awaiting him as the crowd cheered. The bishop, holding the precious relic in front of him for all to venerate, then led the procession to the church for Mass.
Pino and I wandered the labyrinthine backstreets of Montone, finding our way to the Church of St. Francis (where the reliquary had always been kept) and adjacent monastery, now a museum (worth a visit… and self-guided written tour, also in English, is provided). Part of the monastery is now public property and a section of the building has been converted into apartments for holidays… an original alternative to a hotel stay (for information, call 075-9306215 or have a look at their website: www.vacanzeinumbria.it where you can also see a photo of the Processione della Sacra Spina).
Afterwards, we enjoyed a buonissimo lunch at Taverna del Verziere which specializes in both local Umbrian cuisine and Sardinian specialties (as the cook is from Sardinia). Specialties include Sardinian gnocchi with wild boar prosciutto, risotto ai profumi di bosco (or “risotto with the flavors of the forest”), house antipasto which includes a fine Sardinian sheep’s milk ricotta, superb Umbrian lamb or roast pork (Sardinian style), Sardinian breads and desserts.
After lunch, we re-joined the locals for a quick espresso in the café in the main square and then the performance of medieval dances, followed by the competition of the archers (reresenting the 3 sections of the town). At nightfall, the torchlit medieval taverne opened – one for each of 3 rioni of the town – where the townspeople in medieval dress served (to locals and visitors – not many of those!) traditional dishes: bruschette, soups of pasta e fagioli, pasta e ceci (chickpeas), grilled meats and torcolo (simple cake of rural Umbrian origins) with vin santo. Their hospitality was warm and welcoming and we had a strong sense of the deep feeling of the townspeople for this festival and for the precious Sacra Spina… and moreover, of the sense that the festival was for them… visitors welcome and desired but the festival was for the locals… not a show put on….
Read more on Montone
Read about an Umbrian’s feelings about this festival
See the splendor of the Sacred Thorn celebrations in the August festival
Read here about another Umbria Eastertime celebration
Read about Holy Saturday in Umbria