The Representation of the Passion Holy Week in San Pier Niceto

The Good Friday procession at San Pier Niceto, also called the “Varette”, is a tradition of Spanish origins rich in particular characteristics that make it unique in its kind. Unfortunately, the more “baroque” aspects of the rite were progressively suppressed, especially following the Second Vatican Council. Such singular customs had a profound religious significance, but for some they might appear more folkloristic, almost pagan. For this reason they came into conflict with the vision of a new church that was purified by useless “overtones” and by outdated doctrinal methods. In addition to the various statues, there were many living characters who were given the task of “animating” the procession, putting into practice the real dramas of the passion of Christ. The purpose was to make the story of Jesus’ sacrifice and all the most important meanings that surround it understood especially to the poor and ignorant population.

Foto di Carlo Riggi

Below we list some of these characters, almost actors, no longer found in today’s rite.

– “Donna Vana” (Vain Woman) – a young girl proud of her beauty, wearing a dress adorned with jewels and carrying a comb and a mirror in her hands, symbols of futility. In short, more appearance than substance. One can associate this figure to the Magdalene before the encounter with Christ. In addition she flaunted the chains in which the faith of men who had committed adultery with her were symbolically collected, dazzled by her beauty and her availability. This character obviously had a negative meaning.

– “A Pintita” (the repentent) – immediately followed the figure of Donna Vana. The repentant symbolizes the woman (like Mary Magdalene) who thanks to Christ redeems herself and adopts a more sober and penitential behavior. The girl appeared dressed in a poor dress and her hair covered her face.

 “Le Pie Donne” (the pious women) – The women of Jerusalem who cry and complain about Jesus’ condemnation. The actresses improvised by groups of commoners, had to really scream and complain.

– “U Signuri all’ortu”(men in the orchard) – four children were placed on a small cart: Jesus praying at the foot of an olive tree, the apostles Peter, James and John lying down as if they were asleep.

– “A Cena”(the supper) – A table set for a party and placed on a cart, with Jesus and the twelve apostles, still represented by children, while consuming the last supper before the Passion.

– “U Signuri ca Cruci”(the man with a cross) – a boy dressed as Jesus with the cross on his shoulder, surrounded by other soldier-boys who had to simulate insults and beatings.

These “stations” were accompanied by the confraternities belonging to the various churches in the town. During the Holy Week the brothers wore white dress with a hood that covered their faces, and had a crown of thorns on their heads. The various confraternities were differentiated by a band of the color of the church of origin, for example, green for the brothers of San Giacomo, red instead for those of Santa Caterina.

Foto di Carlo Riggi

Fortunately, the most interesting of these ancient customs still survives, that is to dress up little girls and boys with gold jewelry and precious objects, as they  take the form of little angels and nuns. Everything starts with a vow made at the Crucifix or as thanks for a particular grace received. The most important work is to collect the gold from home, sew it patiently on the children’s dress and return it at the end of the procession. In ancient times to make the wings of the angel a white dove was sacrificed from which the feathers were taken.

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