Thursday, June 04, 2015

Umbria - Gubbio

When we went to visit the town of Gubbio, we were there to see the normal church, castle and Roman stuff, but the main highlight was the Iguvine Tablets, a set of 7 bronze tablets from a few centuries BC.  The thing that caught my eye was all the banners on display everywhere, yellow, blue or black.  It turns out this was for a festival being held about a week away, on our last full day in Umbria.  We saw some photos from previous years and it was obvious this was a BIG festival.  I suggested we come back for it, but because of the obvious crowds and uncertainty about the event, there wasn't that much enthusiastic support.
On the day before the festival, I tried to encourage more interest.  We ended up with the ladies going to Perugia, shopping and then getting Ilona to the train station.  Bob and Terry had already left for home in the UK, so that left Bob from Durham, Dick and I.  Without knowing much about the event, we hopped in the car at about 9:00am, hoping we wouldn't be there so early that nothing would be happening.  In hindsight, that thought should never have crossed our minds.

It is hard for me to give a thorough description of the festival, so I will leave the highlights to a paragraph from an Italian tourism site:

Festa dei Ceri

The race takes place every year on May 15th on the eve of the feast of the city’s patron saint, St. Ubaldo. The statues of St. Ubaldo (patron of bricklayers), St. George (patron saint of haberdashers) and St. Anthony the Abbot (patron saint of donkey breeders and peasants) are placed on 3 tall, heavy wooden ceri or pedestals (meant to represent candles). The event consists of a race. Ceraioli (pedestal bearers) carry the ceri on their shoulders and run down the city streets and then up to the basilica of S. Ubaldo on top of Mount Ingino. A charming ritual precedes the race. The spectacular raising (the alzata) of the ceri takes place in Piazza Grande at noon and then the ceri are toured around the piazza 3 times. After being displayed (the mostra) in the city streets, they are placed in Via Savelli until it is time for the race. A procession with the statue of St. Ubaldo takes place in the afternoon and travels to the end of Via Dante, where the bishop blesses the ceri. Then the race starts down the city’s main streets. Once the ceri are back in Piazza Grande, they tour around it 3 more times and end up in front of Porta dell’Angelo (gate) where the ascent up Mount Ingino begins. The ceri are stored in the basilica of Sant’Ubaldo, while the statues of the 3 saints are brought back into the city amidst singing and a torchlight procession. The origins of the feast may date back to propitiatory rituals for the spring, but only its Christian and celebratory nature honouring St. Ubaldo is historically proven in documents.

On our first visit to Gubbio, we saw them working on the Ceri, carefully touching up paint so they were in prime condition.  Notice the big square peg at the bottom.
These are the three frames that allow the people to carry the Ceri. Notice the square hole.  The peg fits down into it and is then locked into place.

When we got back to Gubbio, we had to park a good ways from the town.  To us, that was a good sign.  That meant that things may already be starting and there may be something to see.  Once we walked to town, we realized there were thousands of people, all dressed in the white pants, team colors (yellow, blue and black) and red bandanas. Clearly, the festival was getting cranked up.
Where do we go? For what?  Heck, let's just follow the crowd.
At which point we arrived at the piazza.  Clearly this was the place to be and people were streaming in from everywhere.  It was crowded, but not packed.

People just kept on coming in and the crowd grew closer and closer.  Then the band shows up with some guys on horseback. There wasn't a lot of room for horses and Dick almost had his camera thrust up the horses nose. 
Then another ten thousand or so people show up.  Now the place is FULL.
This guy, who is holding a key to the city, seemed to be the master of ceremonies.  Not sure where they put his horse.
Now it is time to carry the three frames used to carry the Ceri out from the church.
They point the frames up in the air, so eventually they can insert the Ceri's plug.  Standing on the frame seemed to be a position of honor.  That person had the responsibility of leaning back hard to get the Ceri upright.

Notice the little dot in the background.
That was this drone quadcopter taking video.  From the markings, I can tell that it is the same drone I recently purchased.  That would be a great way to capture this event.
Now it is time to bring out the Ceri's.  Much to our dismay, with the Ceri came a few hundred rabid fans of each color.  At this point, things are a bit frenzied.  Nothing is happening slowly.
Then we bring out the three saints, one for the top of each Ceri.
And finally, the three jugs.  These are large, ceramic jugs and I never could figure out their significance.  No worries, they would be in small shards soon.  I didn't get a good photo, but they hand the jugs up to the three guys standing in the frames.  They pour the water out on the surrounding people and then toss the large, heavy jug into the piazza where it hits the ground and shatters.  It is supposed to be good luck to get a chunk.  I think it is good luck not to get hit!  Again, the piazza is jammed with people and everything is happening incredibly quickly.
Now, what we thought was the excitement: the frame leans back to horizontal and there they are, the Ceri!  Congrats!  Now we can go for a beer.
Actually, that was the moment that all hell broke loose.  This is an accidental photo of the last time I ever saw my camera lens hood.  It has since been replaced.
What we didn't realize is that in this jam packed sea of people, they would suddenly clear a path big enough for all three teams of people and their ceris to run three quick laps before leaving.  Even if I had known, I am not sure what I would have done to get good photos or video.  It was more about survival, even at 6'0" and 170 pounds.

Watch this video to get some idea.  Trust me when I say that we were as close to the action as you could be without having a Ceri on your shoulder.
Afterwards, we ran across this sign.  I can't agree more with the part about not bringing children and animals.  I would add short people, small people, the disabled, the meek, the claustrophobic, and a long list of other additions.
Finally, we settled in with the crowd and headed back down the hill for a beer. It took a while for our adrenalin to works its way out of our bloodstream.  The ceri had all wandered off into the town and we were pretty certain we had finished the show.  As we wandered around, we found that the show was continuing.  The three ceri had gone separate directions, but were wandering around the town, an elaborate show and tell.
The idea for the teams is to demonstrate their totting skills by running, spinning, dipping, and whatever else they can come up with.
Every ceri is surrounded by hordes of their supporters, some to take turns carrying, others to watch and applaud..
Running seemed like quite a challenge.  No only do they have a 400 pound weight, but the weight has a tremendous amount of leverage.
In a town with quite a few low utility lines, there is quite a bit of ducking required.  Fortunately I never saw a Saint statue nick a power line.
While the ceri's were being hustled around, everyone else just partied!  It was fun to see that while everyone had a color/team, that didn't seem to get in the way of unified festivities. 
Bob found us a nice lady offering wine and little sandwiches.  He was convinced it was because of his blue shirt.
The rest of my Gubbio photos are all about the people that were watching and participating.

Our visit to Gubbio almost didn't happen.  In hindsight it was definitely one of the clear, memorable highlights of the trip.  It is clearly a very special festival where Gubbbio and the neighboring towns come together to celebrate.  Awesome!

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