Friday, March 26, 2010

Bearing the cross

Last week I wrote about the pappamusci in Francavilla Fontana who perform a 24-hour walkathon on bare feet to show their sympathy with Jesus and atone for their sins. I never got round to the culmination of the rite, which takes place in the evening of Good Friday, when all the pappamusci and numerous others perform ‘la processione dei misteri’.

In Francanvilla as in Taranto and Grottaglie all the hooded ‘perdoni’ or ‘pappamusci’ line up in a parade tailed off by heavy wooden figures depicting the various stages of the suffering of Christ. But in Francevilla they have added an extra touch of drama to the procession by letting young men test their strength on wooded crosses.

I do not know the weight of a 7 metre tree trunk with a cross bar of 3 metres, but to judge from the sighs and panting of men, hauling them over the cobblestoned streets, crosses are a heavy load to bear. And you cannot help wondering what spur the bizarre urge to do so. Still, it is a truely amazing spectacle to witness 50 or 70 crosses being dragged through town by barefooted men in medieval cloaks and hoods, while a rattling Priest’s synchronize the progress. And to think that this custom has survived for centuries.

The ritual in Francavilla Fontana ends around midnight, when the Black Madonna leaves the cathedral and makes her round through town, and the next morning is an ordinary crowd gathering market day. In the hustle among the stalls, I keep looking for telltale signs like a limp or sore shoulder that might reveal the identity of the persons concealed behind the hoods’ of the pappamusci, but so far it has all been guesswork and bragging. Even the churches are said to destroy the list of participants immediately after Good Friday.

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