La Madonna di Citerna Comes Home

December 17, 2012

The tiny northern Umbria village, Citerna (pop. 3500), - ever heard of it? - will now be highlighted on the Italy map of any art-lover (and not only): after years of painstaking restoration, the early 15th-century polychrome sculptural wonder of Donatello, aptly named "La Madonna di Citerna," has come home - to the village church of San Francesco. With the fanfare a queen merits. read more...

Viterbo’s Wonder, La Macchina di Santa Rosa

October 17, 2012

"La macchina di Santa Rosa" is not the "car" of Santa Rosa, nor of anyone for that matter: it's not even a car...but a "construction", to put it in very understated simple terms. Imagine a curvaceous steel, aluminum, fibre glass tower of gold, silver, greens and ochre, nearly thirty meters tall, weighing around 5 tons, illuminated with 1200 LED lights decorated with 900 handmade textile roses, 9 tall and delicate angels - and carried on the backs of over 100 men through dark medieval backstreets lined with "the locals", awaiting with bated breath....and you are JUST beginning to get a sense of the wonder. read more...

Going Underground in Camerano

July 30, 2012

Ah, Italy "the land of the endless discoveries." One never finishes discovering the wonders "above ground" - let alone underground! And sometimes, serendipity leads you to yet another discovery. Gray weather at the seaside last weekend prompted us to head out for some exploration. What wonders we found in a seemingly nondescript Adriatic seaside town, Camerano, whose very name is linked to its suprising labyrinthine maze of subterranean grottoes and tunnels, used by its first inhabitants, the Piceni, in the 9th-c. B.C., our guide, Daniele told us. read more...

Preci’s Curious Fame

July 27, 2012

A friend joined me for the adventure: we took a curvy wooded road into the Valnerina and then up into the Sibiliine mountains in southern Umbria, until we came to tiny Preci (population: about 200). Born as a medieval rural village near a Benedictine oratory (now the Abbey of Sant'Eutizio) time seems to have stood still in Preci. The serenity of this picturesque mountain village of warm Mediterranean colors belies its bellicose past: in the thirteenth century, feudal overlords battled Papal authority for dominance. After decades of conflict, the town was sacked in the early sixteenth century by nearby Norcia and then later rebuilt by Paul III. His mid-sixteenth century reign coincides with the diffusion of the fame of the medical skills of Preci doctors throughout Europe. Preci's sought-after surgeons constructed noble palaces and the town soon became an elegant fortified village. read more...

Narni in May: Medieval Passione Takes Over

May 8, 2012

In the 14th century during the first three days of May, Narni town criers called young riders to join in the races over the next few days: the race for the ring and the race for the Palio (flag), all in celebration of the martyrdom of their patron saint, San Giovenale. The ceremony lives on in early May in Narni as town criers on horseback crisscross the town, galloping under the colorful banners of the three terzieri ("district"), while drummers and buglers announce the festivities. read more

Madonna Primavera Reigns Over Assisi’s Calendimaggio

May 2, 2012

Fanciful legends, myths, age-old folktales, medieval morality plays, ballads and poetry are woven into the rich tapestry of Calendimaggio, Assisi's three-day May celebration of the arrival of spring. A much-loved Assisi legend recounts that long ago, a hooded old crone crept into a noble banquet, ignored by all the merrymakers except for five young damsels who proffered her food and drink. The old hag threw back her veil, revealing herself as La Primavera ("Spring") and the young damsels who assisted her are remembered today as five young damsels are chosen for each of the two factions of Assisi - La Nobilissima Parte de Sopra (the upper area of the town) and La Magnfica Parte de Sotto (the lower area). Another folktale recounts that Springtime who rectifies the chaos of the natural world thanks to her five daughters who put order and harmony into the five time periods of the day: dawn, morning, noon, afternoon, evening. read more...

Crossbow Passione in Assisi

April 30, 2012

In Umbria, you know spring is in the air when the balestrieri ("cross-bowers") compete in the piazzas seated behind their crossbows, one eye closed, taking aim. The crossbow is an inherent part of colorful medieval festivals animating Umbria, "Italy's green heart" and here in Assisi, La Compagnia Balestrieri di Assisi is integral part of the wondrous pageantry of Assisi's early May festival, il Calendimaggio, celebrating spring. read more...

Gubbio’s Festa della Liberazione, April 25th

April 23, 2012

"L'Italia e' libera. L'Italia risorgera'" ("Italy is free. Italy will rise again") announced the headlines of the newspaper Il Popolo, referring to the liberation from Fascist control of Milan and Turin April 25, 1945. Nowadays, on this day all over Italy, Italians gather to honor their fallen soldiers and in paricular, i partigiani, the partisans of the Italian Resistance who fought the Nazis as well as Mussolini's Fascist troops. Some towns will celebrate la Festa della Liberazione with political rallies or tributes at war monuments, others with concerts or marching bands, and some with flags, huge ones. read more..

Good Friday in Assisi: Ancient Traditions Live On

March 31, 2012

Countless religious customs - and innumerable processions in particular - are rooted in medieval street theater. The Holy Thursday and Good Friday of Assisi traditions are living examples. On Holy Thursday night in the 12th-century San Rufino cathedral, the crucified Christ image is detached from His Cross in the ceremony of the scavigliazione (best translated literally: "un-nailing") and laid on a wine-colored funeral bier, covered with a gold-fringed burgundy canopy. From the Middle Ages, crucifixes with removable Cristo Morto images were common and were made specifically for the religious processions which were really a transformation of popular street theater, often acted out in the piazzas and on church thresholds as a way to teach the common people ecclesiastic truths. A living liturgy. read more...