Easter rituals

PROCESSIONE DELLE MACCHINE – VERCELLI

In Vercelli, like in many other places in the province, the religious celebrations connected with Easter form a very particular moment in which religious practices and tradition mix to keep centuries-old practices alive.

On Good Friday, Vercelli hosts a procession with origins dating back to 1833, featuring groups of large sculptures called "Macchine” made of wood, plaster and papier-mâché. The Confraternities that flourished in the city starting in the 13th and 14th centuries, which commonly practised this type of worship and organised processions, maintain these ancient traditions to this day.

The word "Macchina” used to be "Machina”, and indicated the stretcher used to transport the sick and paralysed. Today, it indicates the base on which the statues are set for transportation during the procession.

The history of this Vercellese procession dates back to the 18th century when it was customary to have a symbolic burial at the church of St. Mark. The local word used is "interro”, of Spanish origin. The first processional Macchina appeared at the end of that century, representing Ecce Homo. It was redone in the mid.1700s with the likeness of Christ at the Column by the Compagnia dei Disciplinati di San Nicola.

Since 1734, other groups of statues have been built in Vercelli, which were displayed on Maundy Thursday, and in 1825, the Compagnia del SS. Crocifisso started to take the wooden cross in the Basilica of Sant’Andrea on a procession through the city.

Only in 1833 did the Archbishop Reminiac try to create some sort of order among all of the independent practices occurring on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday by combining them into a single procession that started from Sant’Andrea, as it still happens today.

At present, the Macchine in the processions follow a chronological order linked to moments in the Passion of the Christ: Jesus in the Garden, Jesus at the Column, the crown of thorns, the Ecce Homo, Christ carrying the cross, Christ being tortured, Christ after death, and the Mater Dolorosa. The final statue in the procession is the Christ of Sant’Andrea, in wood, an impressive work of art.

PROCESSIONE DELLE SETTE MARIE – VARALLO

The Procession of the Sette Marie takes place in Varallo on Palm Sunday. According to the ancient tradition, the procession leaves the Collegiate Church of San Gaudenzio, winds through the city streets, and then climbs to the Sacro Monte sanctuary.

It opens with the Sette Marie, followed by the confraternities of the Santissima Trinità and the SS. Sacramento, and then children dressed up like characters from the Passion of Christ, apostles and Jews.

The true origins of this procession are not known, but each year the tradition is repeated in the same way.

The "Seven Marias”, also known as the "Pie Donne” (or Pious Women), are characters typical of this procession. They are represented by seven girls wearing black costumes of ancient style and Spanish tradition, with long trains, white bibs with garnets - typical Valsesian stones - and white linen aprons. At the end of the 17th century, noblewomen used to wear similar clothing on occasion of their weddings.

The girls in the procession also carry symbols of mourning, such as torches, as they walk slowly through the streets. They wear black veils over their faces, and one of them carries the cross.

Nobody knows exactly when this rite commemorating the Passion of Christ began, but the current belief connects it to rituals of Spanish origin that could possibly date back to the time when Valsesia was part of the Duchy of Milan, and under a Spanish governor. It is also possible the festival is Sabaudian in origin, due to its foundation on a Piedmontese custom of representing the "Marias”, "Queens” or "Pious Women” as they express sorrow for Christ during the sacred rituals.

Perhaps the procession has more than one origin, due to the many different elements determining its rules and characteristics.

VIA CRUCIS – QUARONA

The traditional Via Crucis, or "Way of the Cross”, that takes place in Quarona began in 1983 from an idea of two citizens who wanted to re-enact the Passion of Christ through a procession starting from the parish church and ending at the church of San Giovanni al Monte. The first figure to be represented was Christ with the cross. Over the years, the procession has turned into an actual theatrical production, unique in the province, and it expands annually to include new stations of the Way of the Cross. About three hundred people work together on this sacred procession.