Easter truly is a remarkable time to experience Sicily’s rich culture, particularly in 2018’s cultural capital of Italy, Palermo. The spring equinox marks a time of warmer temperatures, longer evenings and the blossoming of beautiful sub-tropical Sicilian flora. The sweet scent of zagara, the flower of all citrus fruit, permeates the air and paves the way for Holy Easter Week.
On Palm Sunday, the congregation brings olive branches and skillfully woven palm leaves to the church to be blessed. Just a stone’s throw away from Palermo, in Partanna Mondello, the representation of the Passion and Death of Jesus is celebrated and recreated by a breathtaking costumed procession, with thousands of devoted spectators attending the event.
On Maundy Thursday, churches are open until midnight to allow the devoted to visit and admire the Sepolcri. In most churches, one of the altars is selected to be beautifully decorated with flowers and elaborate draperies, mainly white, red or golden in colour. In front of the altar, a table is laid with a tablecloth, crockery, bread and wine to represent the Last Supper. Often, pots are prepared with white wheat and white sprouts which have been purposefully grown in the dark. Many special services and rites take place in the churches, such as the Reception of the Holy Oils and the Washing of the Feet.
On Good Friday, the most spectacular celebrations of the Holy Week take place. In Palermo, mesmerising processions parade through the historic centre, with tens of thousands of locals and tourists following the statues of Our Lady of Sorrows and the Dead Christ as they are carried on the backs of members of various religious congregations. The most famous procession commences at the Chiesa dei Cocchieri (the Church of the Congregation of Coachmen). The crowds of worshippers follow the parade, absorbed by the mournful atmosphere, enhanced by the funeral music played by the band.
The Holy Week comes to a dramatic end on Holy Saturday when the Falling of the Curtain (in Sicilian, “Calata ‘a Tila”) takes place in several churches in Palermo. The main altar is covered for the entirety of Lent with an elaborately painted curtain (“Tila”) depicting the Passion of Christ. At midnight of Holy Saturday, after the service, the curtain is released suddenly from above and falls spectacularly to the ground, revealing the glorious image of Christ resurrected. The most famous “Tila” in Palermo, depicting the Deposition of Christ, is found in the Church of San Domenico and, at 24 by 12 metres, is one of the largest and most impressive in Europe. The rite of the “Calata ‘a Tila” is a typical example of the Baroque liturgic theatre and originates from the Spanish religious traditions.
On Easter Sunday, the most impressive celebration takes place in Piana degli Albanesi, a little town just south of Palermo. The locals wear stunning 15th Century traditional costumes and jewellery and distribute red hand-painted eggs. After Mass, the procession of the Holy Veil weaves through the historic centre.
Easter celebrations are also reflected in local delicacies such as “cassata”, a delicious cake made of marzipan, ricotta and candied fruit and “pasta reale” or “frutta martorana”, marzipan sculpted into wonderfully realistic fruit. The most delightful Easter treat is probably the marzipan “lamb” with a pistachio stuffing and artistically decorated with ribbons, flags and flowers.
What are you waiting for? Book an unforgettable 2019 Easter week in Palermo and experience the magic for yourself! We are ready to welcome you to Butera 28 Apartments!