Good Friday is the most solemn day of holy week for Catholics, and no where is it observed with as much pageantry as in Sicily. Many towns and villages across the island hold elaborate processions commemorating the suffering, or passion of Christ as he was led to his crucifixion.
Each town has a different custom, but the processions almost always end with bands playing lugubrious music as worshippers carry a statue of Jesus Christ through the streets.
Several years ago we were Taormina during holy week. Taormina is a jewel of a town on the eastern coast of Sicily overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, Mt. Etna and the Calabrian peninsula. Tourists stream into the town because of its scenic location, abundant flowers, quaint architecture and ancient Greek amphitheater.
But all that pales in contrast to the spectacle that is Good Friday in Taormina.
The event starts in the late afternoon just before dusk, as hundreds of women clad in black, carrying orange-colored lanterns, descend the narrow steps linking the main streets, and begin the procession.
Young girls wearing white dresses and white cotton head coverings follow the women.
A local priest and altar boys come next. Then comes another group of women who are supporting on their shoulders a statue of the blessed mother engulfed by flowers. A band playing somber music processes behind them, while the men of the village begin their march, bearing the statue of Jesus on their shoulders. The entire group slowly walks to the duomo and back.
After dark, the procession is repeated in silence, except for a lone drummer tapping out a haunting beat. At this point, shopkeepers turn off their lights, a hush comes over the town and the faithful make their final homage to Christ, illuminated only by the glow of candlelight. Whether you’re Catholic or not, you can’t help but get caught up in the beauty, the history and the solemnity of the occasion.
Click on the video below and you’ll see what I mean.