Near Foligno in central Umbria, a small town of only about 400 residents takes center stage – quite literally – on Good Friday each year as over a hundred people unite to present their Sacra Rappresentazione, the town’s medieval Passion play.
How did it all start? Francesco Frattini, main organizer told me in a recent conversation, “Until 1974, our town had a simple procession on Good Friday – similar to that in other Umbrian towns, with hooded, barefoot penitenti (penitents) carrying heavy wooden crosses, following the statue of the Cristo Morto.”
In 1867, that tradition of the Good Friday penitential procession had been initiated in Fiamenga by a Franciscan parish priest, Padre Bernardino Benedetti O.F.M.
“…and then,” continued Francesco, “I decided I truly wished to bring the history of the Gospels alive. I read, I studied. A few of us put together our first presentation…a “sacra rappresentazione” (literally, a ‘sacred presentation’) – and thus a Good Friday medieval Passion play was born in Fiamenga.
Recently in a newspaper interview, Fratini said, “It seems like yesterday when a group of young people put together – almost clandestinely – a modern and rather audacious presentation at the end of the solemn Processione del Cristo Morto (Procession of the Dead Christ).” One of those young people was Francesco himself.
Now retired, Francesco had been a secondary school teacher in a technical school and he had also taken acting classes and worked in theater. He told me that although the first scripts for the sacre rappresentazioni were written by a priest well-versed in Biblical studies, “assistance was needed in bringing Scripture alive with accompanying dialogue and so I – and others – became more involved in writing dialogues for our re-enactments of Biblical events. We wish to do direct evangelization in a way that people can perceive the message transmitted.” Francesco added with a chuckle, “One of our local priests once told us that our representations are better than 100 Masses.”
Now over 100 persons participate in the Passion plays, not to mention all the technicians, carpenters, seamstresses, tailors, set-designers joining in as well.
“And the costumes?” I asked him. In the early years of their presentations, local seamstresses and tailors worked on the costumes and eventually, a grandissimo contribution came from a famous costume designer of Spoleto, Giancarlo Colis. “We now have over 200 costumes,” Francesco told me, “carefully locked away – our artistic patrimony.”
In these photos, you’ll see some of the Colis costumes:
Work starts on the Sacra Rappresentazioni each year about two months before Good Friday.
I asked Francesco about the actors and he told me that all are non-professionals but take on their roles with full passione. Many are locals from Fiamenga but not all: people from various Umbrian towns have participated for years, sometimes taking on repeatedly a specific personage – though roles interpreted might also vary, year-to-year.
Each participant fully lives their Biblical role:
Due to COVID, the Sacra Rappresentazioni group of Fiamenga will put together a video of the presentation of past years for Eastertime, 2021.
Do look for it – and plan on seeing the event “live” next year.
See and feel the passion in Fiamenga on Good Friday.
Many thanks to Francesco Fratini and the Gruppo Sacre Rappresentazioni of Fiamenga di Foligno for use of their photos.