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?
– Talking with groups of excited children in satiny shirts – yellow, blue or black depending on their Ceri allegiance – hugging each other in anticipation?
– 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?
– 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?
– The hands waving – like flags – as the three saints surmounting the Ceri exit Palazzo dei Consoli, held aloft by proud ceraioli?
– 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?
– 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?
– 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?
– 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?
– 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?
– 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 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?
– 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 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!”
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