06/16/2015 02:41 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Giornale Adriatico-Mediterraneo: Gubbio


Every May 15th, the Italian town of Gubbio goes nuts. Remember the samba schools that parade in Rio's annual carnival? They're the cultural expression of the Dionysiac impulse for abandon. A ritual of a contrastingly sacred nature takes place in this town in Umbria. Ubaldo is the patron saint of Gubbio and the festival takes the form of a manic race, La Corsa dei Ceri, in which teams representing Ubaldo, who was, in particular, the patron of stone masons, St. Georgio, the patron of merchants, and St. Antonio, the patron of students and farmers, all carry huge wooden candles, really wood structures that weigh almost a 1000 pounds through the streets to a hilltop church. The race course is 1.8 kilometers up a hill with a grade of up to 12% and the teams of 10-15 men change every 15 seconds, but the miracle is that it's accomplished in approximately 8 minutes. Hermann Hesse said this about the road running up Mount Ingino and the Basilica of Sant'Ubaldo (the spot where the desiccated body lies in state) where the candles are displayed for the remainder of the year:

"The magnificent, almost reckless daring of the architecture creates an absolutely astonishing effect and has something incredible and disquieting about it. One seems to be dreaming and looking at the set of a theatrical performance and one has to constantly remind oneself that it really is all there."

La Corsa dei Ceri is really a fixed race in which team Ubaldo always wins, but it's the kind of ritual whose roots go back to the pagan Umbrian civilization which preceded both Christianity and Rome. Today there's a large population of Italians from Gubbio who have immigrated to Jessup, Pennsylvania and every May 15th they send a contingent of 50 revelers to the festival. While what goes on in Gubbio is a religious festival, the three candles which can be see in a video called, La Festa dei Ceri may be seen to resemble enormous phalluses. No matter, man is a social animal and as you look at the frenzied crowds surrounding the event you realize two things about homo sapiens: 1) they like to congregate and face life passages in crowds and 2) they'll do anything for a good time.

photograph by Hallie Cohen

{This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture}