Sacred, profane, spring!
In Salento our traditions and festivals are a riot of magical colour, where the sacred and profane can no longer be told apart. Holy Week, which this year falls between 10-17 April, is the perfect occasion to come here on a holiday of discovery.
Being right on the cusp of the ‘bella stagione’ – the summer, Easter is a great time to discover the beauty of the wild, unspoilt landscape of Leuca and its environs, as it is to wonder at the ceremonies and celebrations of the Resurrection.
Most of the towns south of Gallipoli observe special traditions that are rooted in paganism.
The celebrations start on the Sunday before Easter, with the traditional blessing of the palms, which here in the south are symbolised by olive or almond branches and continue throughout the week, culminating on the Thursday and Friday, with the rites of burial, respectively, and the Good Friday procession.
On Holy Thursday in all the churches replica Tombs are built, like stage sets, in imaginative and creative ways – evoking all the mystery of the resurrection. The churches stay open until late at night so that everyone can visit them. During the day, as a sign of mourning, the church bells remain silent. The Good Friday candlelight procession is very traditional, with its statues of the saints and behind them the statue of Christ.
The Saturday morning procession that takes place in Gallipoli is very special and known well enough to attract thousands of people. Groups of local people parade dressed in traditional, coloured tunics.
One feature half Christian,half pagan, seen in various towns of the Salento region, is the ‘quaremma’ – an effigy that is hung on balconies or from mantlepieces. It looks a bit like a Befana witch, but she’s holding an orange in her hand with seven feathers stuck into it. Every day of Holy Week one of the feathers is pulled out and on Easter Sunday the effigy is thrown into the fire to symbolise the end of Christ’s Passion.
Holy Week ends with the celebration of the Solemn Mass on Easter Day. On Easter Monday, though, it’s traditional to celebrate with friends and relatives in the open air, in the country, enjoying the spring weather, so it’s the right time to visit archaeological sites and nature reserves, like the Otranto-Leuca one, or just have a picnic by the sea.