Anne's Blog

May 15th in Gubbio: the Most Emotional Moment?

Date: May 19, 2014 - categories: , , , , - 6 Comments

I’ll never be anywhere but in Gubbio on May 15th for the indescribable Corsa dei Ceri (“Race of the Candles”). I’ve heard it’s in the book A Thousand Things to Do Before You Die. And if it’s not, it should be.
No one should miss experiencing la grande passione of the Eugubini during the astounding celebration of their patron saint, 12th-century bishop, Sant’Ubaldo. And you’ll know why the people of Gubbio are lovingly called “i matti dell’Italia” (“the crazy ones of Italy”) if you see the run up a mountain in 8 1/2 minutes with 700 lbs-plus pyramidical wooden structures (I Ceri) carried by teams of twenty men.

I’m still not sure which was the most emotionally-charged moment this year:

– The emotion of the eugubini (townspeople of Gubbio) of all ages as the brass bands serpentined through the medieval backstreets in the morning, trumpeting out the beloved Ceri songs so familiar to all?

gubbio band

The brass bands’ music heightens everyone’s emotions

– Talking with groups of excited children in satiny shirts – yellow, blue or black depending on their Ceri allegiance – hugging each other in anticipation?

Excitement of the young <em srcset=

santubaldari (in yellow) and sangiorgiari (blue) is contagious” width=”640″ height=”480″ /> Excitement of the young santubaldari (in yellow) and sangiorgiari (blue) is contagious!

– The triumphant blare of the trumpeters in regal red medieval tunics – balanced on the wall of Palazzo Consoli, the medieval city hall – announcing the start of the festivities?


Sant’Ubaldo comes out of Palazzo Consoli – and he’ll top his Cero

– The cheers of thousands as the three Ceri are carried out of the majestic 14th-medieval city hall, one by one, on the back of appassioned ceraioli?

sant antonio bero

….and here comes the Sant’Antonio cero!

– The hands waving – like flags – as the three saints surmounting the Ceri exit Palazzo dei Consoli, held aloft by proud ceraioli?

Hands flutter like flags, saluting the Ceri

Hands flutter like flags, saluting the Ceri

– The excitement of little Giulio on the shoulders of his aunt, camera ready, as he waits to photograph his father carrying the Sant’Antonio Cero?

A young santantoniaro, ready to photograph his papa carrying the Cero of Sant Antonio

A young santantoniaro, ready to photograph his papa’ carrying the Cero of Sant’Antonio

– The raising up of three 700lbs+ carved wooden Ceri in unison – l’Alzata – a highpoint of the day’s celebrations?

– Dancing with people you’ve never met – who are as crazy as you are about the Ceri – to brass band music in the restaurant patio, in the piazzas, in the streets?

Everyone dancing to brass band music as this Gubbio restaurant

Everyone dancing to brass band music as this Gubbio restaurant

– The sight of small children being held up by parents to kiss and touch the Ceri as they’re “at rest” on stands in the afternoon?

Touching the San Giorgio Ceri brings good luck to this little sangiorgIaro

Touching the San Giorgio Ceri brings good luck to this little sangiorgIaro

– The emotion you feel when the ancient wooden statue of St. Ubaldo in canary yellow cape (and this is his day), carried on the backs santubaldari in yellow shirts, bows to the St. Ubaldo Cero?

SantUbaldo carried by santubaldari to greet his Cero

Sant’Ubaldo carried by santubaldari to greet his Cero

– The warm welcome with a glass of vino rosso from a group of sangiorgiari (San Giorgio supporters) along the route of the race – when they hear that this americana also is a longtime San Giorgio appassionata?

Sangiorgiari offer wine to those along the Corsa dei Ceri route

Sangiorgiari offer wine to those along the Corsa dei Ceri route

– The fervent quick prayer for a good and safe race of the San Giorgio capodieci (leader of his team) in the San Giorgio chapel along the route of the race?

The sangiorgiaro capodieci (team leader) in prayer before the race

The sangiorgiaro capodieci (team leader) in prayer before the race

– The pride of young Federico (in his blue San Giorgio shirt) as he points out the names of his great-grandfather and grandfather on the church’s parchment list of all the San Giorgio capodieci since the late 19th -century?

Federico - with his mamma - shows me proudly the names of his great-grandfather and grandfather

Federico – with his mamma – shows me proudly the names of his great-grandfather and grandfather, sangiorgiaro capodieci (i.e., team leaders)

– The shouts of “Eccoli!” – (“Here they come!”) – as you sit at dusk perched on a rock on the side of cypress-cloaked Mt. Ingino – Gubbio far below – surrounded by Eugubini of all ages who’ve trekked with you up the gravel road? We’ve all been waiting for the run up the mountain to the Basilica di Sant’Ubaldo, where the 12th-c bishop and patron saint of Gubbio, Ubaldo, lies in a glass coffin over the altar.

And St. Ubaldo tears up the mountain!

And St. Ubaldo tears up the mountain!

And in a flash, the Ceri sweep past – Sant’Ubaldo’s Cero on the backs of twenty running, sweating, panting, shouting men in canary-yellow shirts (they’re santubaldari) followed by sangeorgiari in royal blue shirts (St. George on horseback in royal blue cloak topping their Cero) with santantoniari in black shirts (St. Antonio in black tunic crowning their Cero) right on their heels. I was there with camera ready. I only nabbed a shot of the first Cero, with Sant’Ubaldo on top, his yellow cloak flying behind him.

Was that the highpoint of my day?

No, it was just a powerful knockout flash in a day-long train of emotions. There were so many other unforgettable moments on May 15th. One was coffee in a cafe’ right near the three “resting” Ceri in mid-afternoon. I was reading about the Ceri while taking a rest, I-phone plugged into the wall nearby (out of charge). In the cafe, only a few eugubini, so when a short mustached man with a big smile and camera around his neck asked for a coffee, too, Signora Sara at the bar asked him, “Sei il marito della signora?” (“Are you that lady’s husband?”) He replied, “si” (not sure why – I’ll have to ask someday) but I stood up, walked over to him, smiled and said, “Well, you’re not my husband – but you are Steve McCurry!”

Meeting Steve McCurry was a CERI highlight this year!

Meeting Steve McCurry was a CERI   highlight this year! (Thanks to Davide Arlotti for his photo!)

He was there with a crew to photograph the Corsa dei Ceri and although Signora Sara didn’t recognize him, many young eugubini did – and cameras and I-phones were soon clicking, Steve McCurry smiling obligingly. I noted his sparkling bright eyes. Almost as arresting as those of his “Afghan girl with the green eyes.”

He and his photo crew soon headed out for more Ceri photos. I look forward to seeing how he captured the race – and la passione of the Eugubini. Hopefully, we’ll soon see his Ceri photos here.

Read more on the story of Gubbio’s Corsa dei Ceri, May 15th

Read more on Steve McCurry
Read about la passione for the Ceri
Read more on Gubbio’s “Ceri euphoria”
Read about Gubbio’s “Ceri fever”
Read about – and see! – Gubbio
Read about la passione of the young ones for the Ceri
Read about La Corsa dei Ceri in Jessup, Pennsylvannia (!) run by descendants of Eugubini.
Read about an April Gubbio festival
Read about Gubbio’s World War II martyrs
Read why rain never dampens Ceri passione
Read about the June 2nd celebration of the Ceri Piccoli


  • susan says:

    What an exciting day for you and the people of Gubbio. Thank you for brin ging a little bit of that exhubarence to my morning breakfast table. Ill take this news story over any article in a USA daily newspaper.
    Keep up the great work of sharing the passions of my Italian ancestry.

  • Mary Cappiello says:


    You couldn’t have captured this event more beautifully than you have with your text and the pictures. Thank you for letting us be there with you so intimately!! What a joy to share!

    Mary C.

  • Stephanie W says:

    Well, after reading this latest entry in your blog, this festival held in Gubbio has leaped to the top of my bucket list! Your photos and word pictures were the next best thing to being there! You are able to capture so much through your literary giftedness, I love seeing the Umbrian world through your eyes. Thank you, again, for sharing with those of us who couldn’t be there in the flesh. You continue to cultivate in me a love for these beautiful Italian people and their traditions. Mille Grazie!!

  • Anne Robichaud says:

    Thanks, Mary and Steph, for your notes and come join me next year!

  • John Creagan says:

    Anne, we will definitely put Gubbio on our list. If it’s anything like Calendimaggio with you as our guide, it will be an experience to treasure. Thanks again for introducing us to la passione. Best, John and Charmaine

  • Denise Parks says:

    Steve McCurry! How wonderful, Anne! I may very well be heading your way in 2015 to celebrate my 60th year. Will be in touch as plans unfold!

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