Flags Wave Over Assisi’s Calendimaggio: Literally
Preparing my September 26th hour-long ZOOM presentation “Assisi’s Calendimaggio: From Roman Rites to Medieval Splendor” has been a challenge: so much to share! Just the subject of the banners and flags alone could be a full lecture. Flags are certainly an integral part of the splendid Assisi medieval May festival, Calendimaggio.
Each of the two Parti competing in the festival – la Parte de Sotto (“Lower Assisi”) and la Parte de Sopra (“Upper Assisi”) – have their own flags: blue is the dominant color of Upper Assisi and red reigns in Lower Assisi…..
….for the flag of Assisi is both blue and red with a cross on a blue background flanking a rearing lion with a red background, both topped with a crown:
In fact, prior to the festival, red flags tower over the medieval alleyways of the lower part of Assisi (from the main square, Piazza del Comune down to the Basilica di San Francesco) and blue flags waft in the breeze over the medieval buildings of the upper part of town (from the main square up to the Cathedral of San Rufino).
Each of the two parti of Assisi has three districts called “terzieri” (“section of three”) and each terziere has a banner, called vessillo (from the Latin, meaning “small veil”), banners venerated by the local populace.
Since ancient times, man has felt the need to be easily visible and his power evident to all – and recognizable from a distance. Assirians, Egyptians, and Persians raised banners in their military expeditions depicting images of their history. Egyptians depicted the sphinx, the Greeks of Athens, the owl.
The Roman legionnaires carried banners bearing animals or sacred symbols – often the eagle and regal gold-bordered purple banners were bestowed on officials and prefects as sign of valor.
With the fall of the Roman Empire (5th AD)- and the decline of the concept of statehood – the symbols become representative of noble families – or sections of a town.
The only religious moment of the four days of Calendimaggio euphoria is on the first day when the banners are blessed. The partaioli (the members of the Parti) gather solemnly in their central church. For the partaioli of Sotto – called “la Magnifica Parte de Sotto” – the blessings will take place in the Basilica di San Francesco:
All will gather solemnly in front of the altar of the 13th c.Basilica Superiore di San Francesco in the dress of the nobility at the time of San Francesco (13th. c.)
Standing in front of the altar, the priest will bless the flag of Sotto and the three banners of Sotto’s terzieri:
The banners of Upper Assisi – called “la Nobilissima Parte de Sopra” – will be blessed in the 12th c. Cathedral of San Rufino, built on site of the martyrdom of San Rufino, first Christian bishop of Assisi and patron saint of our town. (San Francesco is patron saint of all of Italy along with Catherine of Siena).
I’ve only ever been to the blessings of the banners of la Parte de Sopra – for that is “our” part.
Our blue-shirted crossbow team walked up to the altar, proudly hefting crossbows on their shoulder as if bearing a sacred load. Young men in medieval dress (blue, of course), followed them, bearing the beloved vessilli of Sopra:
Partaioli – of all ages – gathered around the altar:
…in silence as the priest blessed the blue flag of Sopra
and the three banners of Sopra’s terzieri
…..and then, all applauded….
…now feeling confident for a victorious win. In about an hour or two, the opening ceremonies of our Calendimaggio would start in the main square, Piazza del Comune.
Emotion was at high pitch as all left the Cathedral of San Rufino…
…..and Pietro and his lovely daughter Lavinia, shared an espresso before heading to events. Both were serenely confident that la Nobilissima Parte de Sopra would reign over this Calendimaggio.
Thanks, Janet E. for some of the photos above.
When one day you join us for this magnificent festival, do note the honored position of the flags of Sopra (blue) and Sotto (red) – as well as the three vessilli of each Parte – during various moments of the Calendimaggio splendor:
Mille grazie to the Ente Calendimaggio of Assisi for some of their photos.
to see my nine (as of today) ZOOM presentations.
to read about Calendimaggio (and do read the links!).
**(For more on Calendimaggio, simply put “Calendimaggio” into the search bar on my blog).
Agenzia Viaggi Stoppini in Assisi handles all technical support for my guided visits (bus transportation, organization of meals, etc)