My Name is Nobody (Enna IV)

And so as the two floats have been escorted to the cathedral with a funeral march and choral accompaniments at 7.00pm we are ready for the procession to begin.
The robes for the oldest confraternity of SS Salvatore bear a red Maltese cross which suggests a link back to the crusades (this being the emblem of the Knights Hospitaler), but the pictures on the exterior walls of their church  suggest their presence much earlier in time.

As rewriting history goes it isn’t subtle.  The other confraternities wear similar garb but in different colour combinations, but they are all united in wearing pointed white hoods that obscure their identities.  (The exceptions being those carrying the burden of the floats who presumably need more ventilation.)

Some see the hoods as reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan (though there is no known connection) and of course the costumes long predate the Klan’s origins, but perhaps for this reason, all but one of the confraternities have the points of their hoods carefully folded over and held in place with what might be seen as an ersatz crown of thorns reducing the resemblance, though they are still very strange-looking.  Mondassian cybermen sprang to mind.

The true purpose of these hoods was originally to serve as a mark of humiliation for sinners in the early days of the inquisition, although it is also seen as a symbol of mourning, hiding the grief they feel at the death of Jesus.

And so at 7.00 the procession begins, a slow, funeral march from the Cathedral near the top of the hill, down to the cemetery which is nearly 4km away.  Those taking part are almost exclusively male (though the occasional small group of girls get to dress as nuns and walk between the two columns of mysterious figures slowly making their way through the town.

Each group has its own symbol that it parades, though for the confraternity of the Passion, a series of symbols from the crucifixion are individually carried on either side of the procession.  Borne on red velvet cushions they include nails, dice and even a heavily sedated cockerel.

Fascinating stuff, but there’s a problem, for after the brotherhood of the Passion have passed we then have  the brotherhoods of SS. Crocifisso of Pergusa, Maria SS of Valverde, SS. Sacramento, Maria SS of the Grazie, San Giuseppe, Maria SS del Rosario, confraternity Maria SS. Della Visitazione, Sacro Cuore, Spirito Santo, Maria SS Immacolata, Anime Sante del Purgatorio, Maria SS la Nuova and SS. Salvatore. Then clergy with a Cross reliquary containing fragments of the cross and the thorns of Christ under a canopy followed finally by the urn of the Dead Christ, the float bearing the Addolorata and another band as well as local dignitaries.  All in all there are some 3,000 people and it takes some time for them to complete the trip at which point they turn around and return via a different route.

It’s a point I’ll repeat in respect of some of the churches I saw in Sicily, but really sometimes less is more!

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For a Few Shoulders More (Enna III)

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.

It’s something to behold, but it’s just the beginning…

A Fistful of Colours (Enna II)

The reason for so many to be here became apparent only gradually.  The carriage of garment bags and trundling of cases laid a trail that many would follow; though most were deterred by iron gates and returned to the duomo for easier prey.

The patient, and the knowledgable knew better.

Soon creatures of varying plumage emerged from bars, caffés and alleyways.  Many began to gather by the cathedral; consolation then for those who had given up on the main event.

The “man with no name” knew better, passing the time by smoking his last cigarette down to his tattooed fingers.  There’d be time for more tobacco later.  It wouldn’t be long now.

And then an act of athleticism heralded progress.  The gates were open and those who had kept faith surged forward to join the faithful in the tiny church of Santissimo Salvatore, a church founded in the 13th century, along with the rituals that were to follow.

The narrow streets of Enna were to be thronged with a procession of mysteriously robed representatives of a number of different churches, but two of those churches had a far more significant part to play.  My insider, Angelo, had told me to visit SS Salvatore first, and then if it was possible to head as quickly as possible to the Church of the Addolorata.  What was significant about these two?  Part III reveals all.

The Good, The Bad, and The Not So Ugly (Enna I)

It’s shortly after lunchtime in a Sicilian hill town when the predators begin to gather in the otherwise empty streets.

A stiff breeze blows eddies of dust and detritus into neat circular deposits.  A soundtrack by Morricone is required.

The common lizard that hurries in and out of the cracks in the pock-marked wall of the cathedral need have no fear however, even though many of the hunters will be focusing their intention here.  For now though the man with no name rests before the action begins.  Van Cleef strolls nonchalantly.

A smaller group breaks off, largely unnoticed by the majority and makes for richer pickings.  I am one of them, and find myself with serious company.  Some hunt in packs, whilst others operate alone but with more fearsome weaponry than I might muster.  Hired guns among them.

Some adopt a sniper’s eyrie, effective but inflexible for moving prey; others shoot from the hip.

They have come from far and wide in search of rare quarry, but what would bring so many together here?  On a Friday in March?  Though it was my birthday, this wasn’t a photographer’s party.

It was a very different celebration, but one whose nature I won’t reveal.

At least not just yet.