Anne's Blog

Living Santa Cristina’s Misteri: a Heavenly Bolsena Day

Date: July 26, 2019 - categories: , , , , , , , , , - 3 Comments

As we arrived in Bolsena on July 24th, the locals were gathering together in front of the 14th-century castle across the road from the San Salvatore church.

At the conclusion of the Mass celebrating Santa Cristina, martyred in the 4th-c and patron saint of the town, the first of the morning Misteri would be acted out on the stage set up in front of the 13th-c castello.

Five misteri – or scenes of her martyrdom tortures – had been presented the night prior, vigil of her Feast. The final five, concluding with her Glorificazione (her ascent into Heaven) would be acted out the day of her feast, July 24th.

As Pino and I wandered, I noticed  a man with a short-sleeved blue shirt, Santa Cristina image on the pocket. I was curious: I introduced myself and asked the significance of the “badge.”  The man smiled and told me with pride, “sono un portatore della sacra statua della nostra Santa Cristina (“I am a bearer of the sacred statue of our Santa Cristina”).

Of course, I immediately asked if I might take this picture.  Smiling, he willingly agreed but said I’d have to photograph his fellow portatori, too. So we joined Stefano and crew for a foto di gruppo:

          Pino and I with Stefano and the other proud portatori of the Santa Cristina statue

I was delighted to see that women, too, were in the group. I asked all the portatori what had motivated each to take on this task.  The replies of all were similar:  “honor and devotion.”

After our chat, I popped quickly into the San Salvatore church afterwards to see the Saint’s statue they’d be carrying.

Mass ended shortly and then bells started tolling and fireworks zipped and hissed over the castello: today’s Misteri would be on stage in minutes.

The blue curtain covering the stage drew back and the figures of the first martyrdom scene, la ruota (“the wheel”) unfolded: personages in Roman dress –  some expressing regal pride, others pain and devotion –  acted out the scene in silent diorama:

You had to be “quick on the draw” to photograph as the scene was over in just minutes…

….and then the band played and all turned towards the San Salvatore church across the road, anticipating the exit of their beloved Santa:

The portatori proudly hefted her aloft….. 

…..and Bolsena’s beloved Santa Cristina followed the Bishop of Orvieto bearing a venerated relic of Santa Cristina and flanked by prelates in the procession winding through the labyrinthine medieval alleyways of this lakeside town:

We joined in, too, following the procession  – and the processions derive from medieval religious street theater –  to the scene of the second Mistero. In this attempt by a serparo (“snake charmer” in bolsienese dialect) to set poisonous snakes on Santa Cristina, he himself is bitten but the young Saint’s prayers save his life.

Distracted by the beauty of Bolsena’s backstreets, I barely arrived in time to shoot a photo of Santa Cristina kneeling in prayer, the dead serparo stretched our near her, a slithering snake still in his hand; then, the curtain closed:

But as the procession moved on to the next Mistero, I asked the devious snake charmer just leaving the stage if I could photograph him.  He paused with a warm smile (totally out of character for the evil personage he had represented):

And then on to the third miracle, the cutting off of Santa Cristina’s tongue, ordered so that the eleven-year-old child, recently converted to Christianity, could no longer pray.  Lovely young woman in rich gold feasting on grapes were getting into position as I arrived at this stage:

Other figures took their places and then froze in position:  

At the other side of the stage, the grisly scene of the tongue had just taken place:

Every Mistero has a different “Christina” and this one, ten-year-old Clelia, posed tranquilly for me in her bloody dress as the stage cleared:

I then spotted young Matteo, whose family owns a favorite restaurant steps away, Trattoria Da Picchietto. I took a quick photo of him before he changed his red toga for the clothes he’d wear to wait tables in the family restaurant:

Many in the scene posed for a group “selfie” remembrance:

I was enjoying the “selfie good times” that once again, I lagged behind the procession, heading to the main square for the fourth Mistero, le frecce (“the arrows”). The blue curtain was closing in on the scene as I arrived in the piazza.

Local women who had participated in the scene happily posed for me as they left the stage. One covered her cell phone for the photo  (a couple had already put their glasses back on….):

I did arrive at the Basilica di Santa Cristina just as the the band started to play triumphantly for the final Misterola Glorificazione……

        La Glorificazione, the last of the ten Misteri, concludes the two days of celebration honoring Santa Cristina

An amusing detail to note: as an angel accompanies Cristina into Heaven, an impish cherub on the left gives a firm kick to the black-winged Devil, sending him off to Hell:
Following the conclusion of the Misteri, a solemn High Mass was about to start in the Basilica, officiated by the Bishop of Orvieto flanked by many prelates in brilliant red robes.  Color of martyrdom. Color of celebration.

The first pew was empty so I sat there, across the aisle from the mayor of Bolsena in his tri-colored sash who had been in the procession, too, behind the religious dignitaries.

Three young girls in white were sitting behind me. I could guess who they might be – especially when recognizing “bloody” Clelia in the middle –  and they whispered an affirmation: each had played Santa Cristina in different Misteri.  

Before Mass started, many paused as they entered the Basilica to touch the venerated Santa Cristina statue which had now “returned home”: for two days, she had been carried in procession throughout Bolsena from Mistero-to-Mistero.

The locals’ pious devotion to their beloved Santa Cristina was quite easily read on every face.

Eleven-year-old Sofia who had represented the glorified Santa Cristina in the final Mistero just outside, dropped in, too, to touch her Saint:

The parish priest and another young interpreter of Santa Cristina (Caterina, who had been in the main piazza Mistero scene of  the martyrdom attempt with arrows) joined her:

Outside, many young people of the final scene posed proudly and willingly for photos: 

……and then they celebrated  their Santa Cristina –  but raucously –  in a post-festivities aperitivo at the cafe’ next to the Basilica:

Most had put away their loin cloths and the togas they’d donned for the scene…but not all of them:

All toasted Santa Cristina (Sofia) standing behind the Angel who’d born her to Heaven. Across the table and now in a red shirt and without his black wings, Fabio (the Devil) initiated the “Salute!”

How not to join in?

Click here to read about another celebration of the Misteri

Read more here about Santa Cristina and her feast day celebrations

Read about a favorite place to stay not far from Lake Bolsena

Click here to read about Trattoria Da Picchietto – and see Matteo

Read about a favorite Bolsena spot

Click here to read about a “saintly gelato” of Bolsena


  • Cami says:

    Amazing Anne! Feel like I was there with you, enjoying life and the festivities! Thank you for sharing

  • Cara says:

    Wonderful article and pictures!! Allows readers to feel present at the festivities! Thank you Anne!

  • Louise says:

    We all enjoy reading your blog and seeing photos. Thank you for sharing so we can all experience this. Amazing!

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