The church of Santissimo Salvatore can trace its origins to 1261 (though it’s been rebuilt since then) and so its lack of size is compensated for by being one of the town’s oldest and most important churches, and in so far as many christians see the church as being the people who attend rather than the structure itself then this is certainly true, for on that Good Friday then numbers gathering in those white and yellow robes were considerable. But then they needed to be.
Before we get to the ground level activities it’s worth noting that despite its size, the coffered ceiling is worth of comparison with that of the nearby Duomo, but you’ll have to wait to see what I mean.
Let’s go back further in time. Sicily plays host to so much Greek mythology (Etna as Polyphemus the Cyclops, the treacherous Straits of Messina with their natural whirlpool equate to Scylla and Charybdis) and in particular the story of Demeter and Persephone, for it was from near to Enna that Hades burst out from the underworld on his chariot to abduct the beautiful Persephone, daughter of Demeter, the Goddess of Agriculture. I’m sure you know the rest of the story which gave rise to the changing seasons. Consequently spring was always celebrated here even before Easter supplanted earlier festivals.
The establishment of SS Salvatore coincides roughly with a period of Spanish control over the island and if you’ve seen the episode of Civilisations in which Mary Beard follows the procession of the “crying” Madonna of Macarena you’ll know what’s coming in Enna IV.
At the heart of that are two statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary born by the confraternities of Salvatore and Addolorata respectively. (The weeping mother mourns her child who will bring salvation – Demeter & Persephone anyone?)
And now the need for all those men becomes apparent; they will carry the wooden corpse of Christ in his glass coffin (Urn) in the long procession to come with the load being spread across dozens of shoulders to lessen its impact. Just one problem. Getting the elongated structure out of the church which is hemmed in by narrow alleys and high walls.
The answer is to break it into three sections, walk these out to one of the longer “straights”, place the urn section on trestles and lock the extension arms back into place. Easier said than done, but after a couple of false starts enough force is applied to lock the three into one and the procession begins… and then stops. A corner on the route is too tight to turn conventionally so instead, rocking from side to side as the men keep step, the entire structure stops while individually the men turn about under their load, effectively putting the whole thing into reverse.