“I thought I would three saints and I saw three Ceri. I thought I would see a town and I saw the people. But, above all, I thought I would see a celebration, and I saw life”. These are the words of photographer Steve Mc Curry and they reflect the essence of the Festival of the Ceri in Gubbio.
On 15 May, every year in Umbria, the region’s most heartfelt festivity takes place. It is famous throughout Italy and beyond. In fact, numerous tourists flock from all over the world to visit the town of Gubbio on this special day. The Festival of the Ceri is not merely a religious festivity (it is closely linked to the celebration of the town’s Patron Saint Ubaldo) or an historical re-enactment, but a day that embodies the soul of an entire region, where tradition and culture are intertwined in a close embrace.
The three Ceri (tall wooden structures), each of which is crowned by a statue – one of St Ubaldo, one of St George and one of St Anthony, are carried on the shoulders in a race that takes place in the narrow streets of the old town centre of Gubbio. In the early morning light, you can already hear the chiming of the big bell as it calls participants to gather and get ready to participate in the “race”. The “Alzata” (raising) of the Ceri takes place in Piazza Grande, where the “capodieci” (team captains) pull up the impressive wooden structures (each weighs almost four hundred kilos) with a spectacular manoeuvre.
In the afternoon, the race begins: at 18:00, the Captains from the previous year give the go-ahead and the jubilant citizens of Gubbio cheer “Via ch’eccoli!” (Here they are!). The colourful crowd separates immediately, making way for the passage of the Ceri.
The race begins along the narrow uphill streets, towards Mount Ingino, where the basilica of St Ubaldo is located. This is the finishing line. The race is spectacular: in some points, the ceri appear to be brushing against the houses and roofs, and the “Ceraioli” carrying the wooden structures risk falling over. The skill of the “Ceraioli” lies in their ability to run as far as possible with the Cero in a vertical position, avoiding “cadute” (falls) and “pendute” (tilting). This is the real victory, bearing in mind that there is no overtaking and that the Ceri reach the top of the mountain in the same order in which they set off: St Ubaldo, St George and St Anthony.
After the race, you can walk through the town streets and you will find celebrations in every corner, with toasting, singing and dancing: the inhabitants of Gubbio dress for the occasion in the colours of their own saint and crowd into the taverns, where you can sample some of the local dishes.
When participating in the Festival of the Ceri you will not just discover a local event, but a unique way of taking part in a tradition that is deeply heartfelt by the people of Gubbio and Umbria and that is able to arouse the enthusiasm of every tourist who witnesses this event at least once.
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