Gubbio’s La Corsa dei Ceri: May Passione Reigns
During Gubbio’s May 15th Corsa dei Ceri (“race of the candlesticks”), passione comes in all sizes – from just-hatched little ones to the elderly – and in three colors: yellow, royal blue and black.
You’ll see more than one infant in a yellow kerchief and tiny yellow satin shirt and you might see a pre-schooler straddling his grandpas’s shoulders, both in bright royal blue shirts. An enthusiastic group of small children in black shirts, traditional Ceri white pants and red neck scarves clapping excitedly, danced to the music of the band on the steps of a medieval backstreet as I wandered Gubbio on the afternoon of May 15th.
Passione for the Ceri starts early – and lasts a lifetime. The marching brass bands trumpeting thoughout Gubbio during la Festa dei Ceri inflame that passione.
As always, la passione per i Ceri had me. And everyone else.
Little santubaldari, sangiorgiari, santantoniari had cheered along with their parents and grandparents as the Ceri were raised that morning in Piazza Grande and then run madly around Gubbio’s flag waving in the piazza. Saint Ubaldo, twelfth-century bishop and beloved patron saint of Gubbio – as well as patron saint of the stonemasons – tops the first Cero in the race, his yellow mantle unfurling behind him as his ceraioli set off in a mad dash. San Giorgio, patron saint of merchants, in helmet, bright royal blue tunic and astride his horse crowns the second Cero. Sant’Antonio, patron saint of farmers and students, dons a black tunic and tops the third Cero.
After the emotionally-charged alzata (“raising up”) of the three Ceri – if possible, in unison – the three huge pyramidical structures (weighing over 700 lbs each) are run around the huge red flag of Gubbio, waving in the breeze in the center of the piazza. Three times around. Three Ceri surmounted by three saints (and just “baptized” with the water of three maiolica pitchers). Three stops on the run to be made that evening up the mountain to the Basilica di Sant’Ubaldo.
Three. That sacred number. But the pagan and Christian fuse in the Corsa dei Ceri. For most Eugubini, I Ceri, represent the huge candlesticks which the nobility bore solemnly in Sant’Ubaldo’s funeral procession on May 16, 1160. But May is the month of fecondity and fertility, rich in orgiastic rites in Roman Iguvium and before that, in the pre–Roman Umbrian Ikuvium. Cerfus was the Umbrian god of fertility; Romans celebrated Ceres. Cerfu, Ceres, Ceri.
With tension and anticipation cresting as we awaited l’Alzata, I turned to chat with a young couple in royal blue shirts: appassioned sangiorgiari. i asked them if they saw anything phallic in the raising up of the Ceri.
They looked stunned – and then perplexed. Very kindly, they tried to explain to an uninformed tourist, “no Signora, i ceri sono in onore di Sant’Ubaldo”. And then the huge bronze bells in the belfry above started tolling, the trumpeters in medieval dress blared out the ceremony’s start, the massive doors of the 14-century Palazzo dei Consoli opened and hundreds of ceraioli for each of the tree teams came barreling down the steps, holding their Ceri aloft – as we three cheered madly with the crowd.
Read about Gubbio
Read more about the Ceri – and la passione
Click here to read about Assisi’s amazing May festival, Calendimaggio
Read about another Umbrian festival with Ceri similaritites
For more on La Corsa dei Ceri story, click here
Not to be believed until you see it
See and feel the emotion of the Alzata on YouTube
Click here to read about La Corsa dei Ceri in Jessup, Pennsylvannia (!) run by descendants of Eugubini.
Read why rain never dampens Ceri passione