On April 18 and 19 in the town of Vallata (AV), a Holy Week tradition will take place as it has done for nearly 500 years.
The Via Crucis, or Holy Procession, representing the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ on Good Friday, is a popular commemoration of that fateful event throughout all of Southern Italy; however, the Good Friday procession that takes place in Vallata is considered one of the most evocative and most representative of what really happened.
According to the Associazione Venerdì Santo Vallata, the procession dates back to 1541, when the Jewish community of Vallata converted to Christianity and began to hold this manifestation during Holy Week. Photos of the event date back to 1928 and little has changed over the event’s storied history. The Associazione Venerdì Santo Vallata stresses that the procession is different from a traditional Via Crucis, as well as different from other processions that were similarly done in the Middle Ages, since there is no Stations of the Cross component to the procession.
Tradition has it that young people dress up as Roman soldiers, wearing a breastplate and parading through the crowd as a test of initiation through physical performance. In addition to various symbols of Roman power that are carried through the streets, the so-called “Misteri,” which are symbolic objects exhibited by men wearing hoods, are also taken on procession. Eighteenth-century paintings representing the scenes from the life and death of Christ with phrases from the Gospel of Saint John are also carried on the procession.
About two hundred participants participate in the Venerdì Santo Vallata procession. Everyone’s pace is marked by the rhythm of a characteristic sound of trumpet and drum, which, according to the Associazione Venerdì Santo Vallata, helps to create an environment of moving reflection on the great mystery of Christ’s pain. This meditation is further solicited by some singers who sing the verses of the “Passion of Jesus Christ” by Pietro Metastasio. The verses have been handed down orally or through uncertain writings, for which they have taken a strong dialectal accent, resulting incomprehensible to the majority of bystanders. The procession is completed by the coffin of the dead Christ surrounded by the mayor and by the doctors of the town and the Sorrowful Mother surrounded by little girls with mourning flags.
According to the Associazione Venerdì Santo Vallata, this tradition is so strongly felt by the Vallatese population that there is no need to work hard to hand it down generation by generation– it just happens naturally. It is a collective procession that unites the entire town and is a true representation of what it means to be “Vallatese.”
See below for a video of the procession and a further explanation of its history (in Italian):