Confraternity of Santissima Annunziata, Procession visiting the Altars of the Reposition, Piano Di Sorrento, 2010 | Photo: Elitre © Fiore S. Barbato, via Wikimedia Creative Commons
Easter Vacation in Sorrento, Tradition and the Processions of Good Friday
On the Sorrentine Peninsula, local traditions are still part of the daily life of inhabitants today. Especially when it comes to the Week of Easter, when religious organisations in every city commemorate the Passion of Christ.
The origins of the penitence processions that are carried out during Holy Week have been obscured by time. However, one must return to the 1300s, to find the origins of the first ritual imported from Spain. The Ancient Confraternity of the Battenti of Sant’Antonio of Sorrento, already in 1378, organised processions in which members whipped themselves as a sign of penitence exactly as was done during the Semana Santa in Andalusia, ancient Spain.
Brothers of the Descendimiento during the Semana Santa in Zaragoza in Spain | Photo: Willtron (Own work), via Wikimedia Creative Commons
Today, the Sorrentine event, which is carried out in a sequence of numerous appointments during the days prior to Easter, is one of the most famous and awe-striking of all such religious rituals. In particular, the two most important processions are the Black Procession and the White Procession, which are preceded by other such events. On Holy Monday at 8.30 pm, there is the Processione dell’Addolorata (or Visit to the Sepulchres). On Holy Thursday at 9 pm is the Processione Visita agli Altari della Reposizione, and on the next day, the night of Good Friday, is the White Procession at 3 pm and, finally, the Processione del Cristo Morto, or Nera, the Black Procession at 9 pm. One of the two passes over the Marinella Terrace where Hotel Mediterraneo is located.
The White Procession in Sorrento | Photo: © Hotel Mediterraneo Sorrento
Each procession opens with a drum roll and the chorus of the Miserere composed of approximately 200 singers reciting latin verse with Gregorian style chants. It is a funeral procession in which the members of the religious confraternities - called “incappucciati” - march in tunics, their faces covered, in a sign of penitence. In their hands are symbols of the martyrdom of Christ, including the ancient lantern with which Christ’s face was recognised in Gethsemane, the bag that carried the money paid for the betrayal by Judas, the rooster that crowed at the moment Peter negated Christ, the hammer and nails used for crucifying the Messiah, the shroud on which Christ’s face was imprinted, the vinegar-soaked sponge used to quench Christ’s thirst, the spear used to verify the Saviour’s death and the whip and the column as proof of the tortures inflicted on Christ.
Along with the symbols and the medieval melodies, the incappucciati also carry the statue of the Madonna Addolorata. The atmosphere of this ancient custom is emphasised by song, profound and melancholic, becoming more intense as the processions continue, all lights out and absolute silence otherwise observed. A truly unique event not to be missed.
The Black procession of the Dead Christ (Trailer 2017), Sant'Agnello, Napoli | Video: © Arciconfraternita Gonfalone SS. Prisco ed Agnello
Giuseppe Gargiulo, director of tourism for the city of Sant’Agnello, about a kilometre from Sorrento, knows very well the emotions of the faithful and even just the curious onlookers that attend the processions. “The event of Good Friday already starts the day before and goes well into the night until the third and last Procession of the Dead Christ,” affirms Gargiulo. “The first two processions symbolise a sort of search for Christ in the various sepulchres in the key churches of Sant’Agnello. At sunrise on Friday morning, the procession finds the Dead Christ in church. Every year, about 6-7000 people take part in each march. The various confraternities prepare the rituals for months, which are second only to those in Spain. The processions are fascinating, also thanks to the choruses made up of hundreds of the faithful.”
In the town of Sant’Agnello, the commemoration of the Passion of Christ is held in the three Confraternities of the Sacro Cuore di Maria e di San Giuseppe, the Santissimo Sacramento e Natività di Maria Vergine and the Gonfalone dei Santi Prisco e Agnello.
Church of the Saits Prisco and Agnello in Sant’Agnello | Photo: Andreaamiranda (Own work), via Wikimedia Creative Commons
“During Holy Week, there is a frenetic air on the entire Peninsula,” continues Gargiulo. “It wouldn’t be Easter without the processions. During the Week, every year, there are a wealth of related events.”