Living Santa Cristina’s Misteri: a Heavenly Bolsena Day
At the conclusion of the Mass celebrating Santa Cristina, martyred in the 4th-c and patron saint of the town, the first of the morning Misteri would be acted out on the stage set up in front of the 13th-c castello.
Five misteri – or scenes of her martyrdom tortures – had been presented the night prior, vigil of her Feast. The final five, concluding with her Glorificazione (her ascent into Heaven) would be acted out the day of her feast, July 24th.
As Pino and I wandered, I noticed a man with a short-sleeved blue shirt, Santa Cristina image on the pocket. I was curious: I introduced myself and asked the significance of the “badge.” The man smiled and told me with pride, “sono un portatore della sacra statua della nostra Santa Cristina (“I am a bearer of the sacred statue of our Santa Cristina”).
Of course, I immediately asked if I might take this picture. Smiling, he willingly agreed but said I’d have to photograph his fellow portatori, too. So we joined Stefano and crew for a foto di gruppo:
I was delighted to see that women, too, were in the group. I asked all the portatori what had motivated each to take on this task. The replies of all were similar: “honor and devotion.”
After our chat, I popped quickly into the San Salvatore church afterwards to see the Saint’s statue they’d be carrying.
Mass ended shortly and then bells started tolling and fireworks zipped and hissed over the castello: today’s Misteri would be on stage in minutes.
The blue curtain covering the stage drew back and the figures of the first martyrdom scene, la ruota (“the wheel”) unfolded: personages in Roman dress – some expressing regal pride, others pain and devotion – acted out the scene in silent diorama:
You had to be “quick on the draw” to photograph as the scene was over in just minutes…
…..and Bolsena’s beloved Santa Cristina followed the Bishop of Orvieto bearing a venerated relic of Santa Cristina and flanked by prelates in the procession winding through the labyrinthine medieval alleyways of this lakeside town:
We joined in, too, following the procession – and the processions derive from medieval religious street theater – to the scene of the second Mistero. In this attempt by a serparo (“snake charmer” in bolsienese dialect) to set poisonous snakes on Santa Cristina, he himself is bitten but the young Saint’s prayers save his life.
Distracted by the beauty of Bolsena’s backstreets, I barely arrived in time to shoot a photo of Santa Cristina kneeling in prayer, the dead serparo stretched our near her, a slithering snake still in his hand; then, the curtain closed:
But as the procession moved on to the next Mistero, I asked the devious snake charmer just leaving the stage if I could photograph him. He paused with a warm smile (totally out of character for the evil personage he had represented):
And then on to the third miracle, the cutting off of Santa Cristina’s tongue, ordered so that the eleven-year-old child, recently converted to Christianity, could no longer pray. Lovely young woman in rich gold feasting on grapes were getting into position as I arrived at this stage:
I then spotted young Matteo, whose family owns a favorite restaurant steps away, Trattoria Da Picchietto. I took a quick photo of him before he changed his red toga for the clothes he’d wear to wait tables in the family restaurant:
I was enjoying the “selfie good times” that once again, I lagged behind the procession, heading to the main square for the fourth Mistero, le frecce (“the arrows”). The blue curtain was closing in on the scene as I arrived in the piazza.
An amusing detail to note: as an angel accompanies Cristina into Heaven, an impish cherub on the left gives a firm kick to the black-winged Devil, sending him off to Hell:
Following the conclusion of the Misteri, a solemn High Mass was about to start in the Basilica, officiated by the Bishop of Orvieto flanked by many prelates in brilliant red robes. Color of martyrdom. Color of celebration.
The first pew was empty so I sat there, across the aisle from the mayor of Bolsena in his tri-colored sash who had been in the procession, too, behind the religious dignitaries.
Three young girls in white were sitting behind me. I could guess who they might be – especially when recognizing “bloody” Clelia in the middle – and they whispered an affirmation: each had played Santa Cristina in different Misteri.
Before Mass started, many paused as they entered the Basilica to touch the venerated Santa Cristina statue which had now “returned home”: for two days, she had been carried in procession throughout Bolsena from Mistero-to-Mistero.
Click here to read about another celebration of the Misteri
Read more here about Santa Cristina and her feast day celebrations
Read about a favorite place to stay not far from Lake Bolsena
Click here to read about Trattoria Da Picchietto – and see Matteo
Read about a favorite Bolsena spot
Click here to read about a “saintly gelato” of Bolsena