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  • Corsa dei Ceri in Gubbio

For Gubbio’s Corsa dei Ceri, “Mad” Passion

Date: March 4, 2021 - categories: - Leave your thoughts

Gubbio’s majestic 14th century, Palazzo dei Consoli towers proudly over Gubbio, magnificent from wherever you see it in Gubbio…



…and from May 1st  15th, the Palazzo hosts three treasured “visitors”:  the incised wooden pyramids called “Ceri” (candles)…



…to be run up Mt. Ingino to the Basilica di Sant’Ubaldo by panting, huffing teams of ceraioli  (the carriers of the three Ceri) on May 15th…


..after a mad race throughout  the winding medieval alleyways of Gubbio:


The May 15th festivities, after all, celebrate Bishop Ubaldo, beloved patron saint of Gubbio, the 12th-century bishop who is buried in the mountaintop Basilica di Sant’Ubaldo. The Ceri are standing proudly there in the Basilica for most of the year.



…except in the beginning of May for the Ceri are carried down to the medieval civic palace of Gubbio, Palazzo dei Consoli, on May 1st.  On May 15th,  the Corsa dei Ceri – “the Race of the Candles” – takes place to run the 3 Ceri from the civic palace in the center of Gubbio up the mountain and  back home so that they can return to their place near the Basilica  altar which is crowned with the glass urn holding the body of Gubbio’s beloved St. Ubaldo who died in 1160:


But this is Italy, after all, and like many a springtime festival, Christian traditions interweave with Roman fertility cults.  And those three Ceri are linked to pre-Roman religious rituals, those of the ancient Italic people, living in Ikuvium (ancient Gubbio – Iguvium later, for the Romans).

Cero means “candle” but Cerfus was an Umbrian god of fertility. And the ancient Umbri celebrated three rites of divination, always sacrificed three animals in rituals to their gods (three primary ones) and the city had three entry portals. The  3rd- 1st C B.C. incised bronze tablets – the Iguvine Tablets –  housed in the Palazzo dei Consoli recount the Umbri religious rituals. And the highlight of the May 15th festivities takes place right in front of that palazzo.

Whether or not you’re eugubino, there are countless exciting moments and tugs on your emotions throughout the day, starting with the rousing music of the bands in the morning, sometimes playing Ceri tunes that the locals join in. That beat of the drums, the blare of the trumpets builds the excitement and…


…announces the arrival on horseback of the two capitani – considered the hosts of the festival:



Gubbio’s flag-bearers, the alfieri,  follow…

The three ceraioli groups racing the Ceri up the mountain in late afternoon parade proudly behind the bands: Sant’Ubaldo ceraioli in saffron yellow shirts, San Giorgio ceraioli in royal blue and black for the Sant’Antonio ceraioli.

The Capodieci with black badge on his shirt is the leader of his Cero’muta (team of up to 20 men hefting the Ceri during the runs). He’ll proudly carry the brocca (ceramic pitcher) – painted in the color of his team – which will be used to “baptize” the Cero at the start of the morning race:


As the parade heads up to Palazzo dei Consoli, I head up there too…but through Gubbio’s medieval backstreets…


– with a stop at the Fontana dei Matti (“Fountain of the Madmen”):


It seems appropriate to stop there on this day of the Corsa dei Ceri which has bestowed on the eugubini the appellation of “i matti dell’Italia.” Mad? Let’s just say “madly passionate.”

Running around the fountain three times – ah, that magic number! – and then “baptized” (sprinkled with water) by an eugubino raises you to the ranks of a “mad one” of Gubbio. You can even purchase a parchment plaque nearby, your official patente (license) to be mad:


Francesca Turchi, thanks for your photo of your patente and the photos below of the three circuits around the fountain concluding with the “baptism”:


A couple years ago, enroute to the Piazza Grande and start of the morning Corsa dei Ceri, our Ceri group paused there, all happily “mad” after our stop:


Excitement in the crowd gathered before the 14th-century Palazzo dei Consoli was palpable. The bells in the turret topping the Palazzo start to toll…

…rung by 12 campanari, setting them in action in a careful ritual:

(And thanks to for the above photos)

And then just below, in front of the Palazzo, the trumpeters in medieval dress of Gubbio red blasted out the announcement of the start. As the capitano and two alfieri reached the bottom of the grand staircase, hands waved like flags of homage…


…joined by the waving flags of Gubbio’s sbandieratori (banner-wavers, flag-wavers).


The drums rolled furiously anticipating the opening soon of the great door…and the exit of the Ceri.

St. Ubaldo’s Cero is always first as this festival is in his honor, taking place on the vigil of his feast day (May 16th):

…with San Giorgio always following Ubaldo…

…and lastly, Sant’Antonio:


And emotions are flying high as the saints which will top the Ceri come out: Sant’Ubaldo in yellow, San Giorgio on horseback with his royal blue cape and Sant’Antonio in black tunic:


After the saints are carried over to their Ceri now awaiting on the side of the piazza, out come the three brocche (pitchers):


Those three pitchers hold water and will be used by each Capodieci to baptize his group’s Cero now mounted on the barella (stretcher), ready for the uplifting and carrying.  After the “baptism,” the three capodieci triumphantly raise high those brocche in well-coordinated unison…



…and launch them into the crowd:



Many scramble eagerly for the  broken pottery pieces, said to bring good luck. And if  a lucky finder knows a pregnant woman, the treasured  piece is given to her to assure a safe birth.

Seconds after the flinging of the pitchers, the three capodieci launch themselves forward in the volo dell’angelo (“flight of the angels”)…



…and the three Ceri are up!!  And running. And with those three speedy birate (the runs around the flag), Gubbio passione explodes.

Mad passion. But contagious.


Think about that raising up – that erection – of the three Ceri and its evident link to the ancient Umbrian religious rituals of springtime fertility cults, including their anointing of a sacred obelisk – although the Gubbio explosive passione on May 15th is for their patron saint, Ubaldo.

You may be a sangiorgiaro (St. George, patron saint of merchants) or a sant’antoniaro (St. Anthony, patron saint of students and farmers) but whether  dressed in yellow, blue or black on May 15th – all the eugubini are united in feting beloved patron of Gubbio, Saint Ubaldo (patron saint of stonemasons).

And ebullient feasting goes on all day – with the bands blasting through restaurants where diners are soon up and dancing…



…and singing the Ceri songs all know…


At lunchtime, the ceraioli feast together in huge vaulted halls while the Ceri “rest,” too, in the medieval backstreets.  Locals stop to touch them, photograph them, sit their children on them…



…and in the piazzas all over Gubbio, bands are playing and little ones as well as older ones unite in dancing…







In the afternoon, the statue of Saint Ubaldo is carried through the narrow medieval streets of Gubbio, all reaching out to touch his cloak…


…and then after the “rest” each Cero is once again inserted into its barella, then hefted on to the shoulders of the ceraioli. 

Il Cero di Sant’Ubaldo always leads, reaching his Basilica first, followed by San Giorgio and then Sant’Antonio.  This is a “race” in the sense of speed but not a contest: no Cero passes another.

In the gran finale late afternoon run, the three Ceri dash throughout Gubbio…


…and then from the center of Gubbio, through narrow backstreets…

…onto a winding  gravel road to the Basilica di Sant’Ubaldo on Mt. Ingino, arriving there in just 8 minutes, thanks to those 20 men of each muta bearing about 300 kilos on their backs…at a dead run:

Hundreds of men are on each team for sometimes, the carrying is just for a few yards (especially during steep climbs) and a ceraiolo will cede his spot to another, the switch made  without  a pause in the race.

Each Capodieci works months on deciding where on the route to place each ceraiolo for smoothest team work, careful  consideration given to strength agility and height of each man.

At the Basilica, the Cero di Sant’Ubaldo is lowered and enters the Basilica…

…with San Giorgio close behind…


– and then –  following an age-old tradition – the ubaldari close the door on the San Giorgio.  Colorful imprecations explode and  as a Gubbio friend once told me, “…totally inappropriate language for requesting entry into a holy spot..but..we are eugubini..”

The door eventually opens and San Giorgio enters, then Sant’ Antonio..

The Ceri  have returned home.

***Many thanks to the Comune di Gubbio, Davide Cazzamali, to, and to the Ceri Facebook page for the use of some of their photos.

Read here about la Corsa dei Ceri

Read more here about the glorious Corsa dei Ceri

Read here about Gubbio’s Palazzo dei Consoli

Click here to read about the Mausoleum of the 40 Martyrs

Read about Gubbio’s pre-Roman archeological treasures

Click here to read about – and see! – the glorious April 25th celebrations in Gubbio

Read about Gubbio’s Basilica di Sant’Ubaldo

Read about the links of St. Francis to Gubbio

Read about Gubbio’s Campanone (“Great Bell”)

See the video of the bell-ringing!

Read here about Gubbio’s death doors

Read here to learn about  how all age groups have their  Ceri races in Gubbio

Click here to read about – and see! – the Ceri brought down from the Basilica in early May

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