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…

Back so soon Persephone?

After the thick mists which regularly obscured Watership Down at dawn last week, it felt as if, following an unusually warm summer, we were in for a more Keatsian autumn.  The trees and bushes are bent under the weight of abundant fruit, the leaves redden, and days grow shorter.

The ancient Greeks (and several other early civilisations) tell the story of how the goddess of the harvest, Demeter, sees her daughter Persephone abducted by Hades and taken to the underworld.  In her grief, she forsakes her agrarian duties, causing the onset of winter and the accompanying withering and death of vegetation.  The resultant disruption led to some tricky negotiations within the pantheon and bout of underhanded trickery involving pomegranate seeds, but eventually a compromise solution was reached whereby Persephone would spend half the year above ground with her mother and half with Hades, her new husband.  The daughter’s return heralded the return of warmer weather as her mother’s joy was restored, usually coinciding with spring.

I was in North Yorkshire this afternoon so picked up a sweater and light jacket before leaving with my camera, first for the beautiful village of Osmotherley, and then to the former Carthusian monastery of Mount Grace Priory.  It wasn’t cold as I left Durham, but over the 45 minutes of my journey the temperature rose by about three degrees and I arrived to find myself bathed in sunshine.  The Three Tuns, a noted pub in the village was empty; not because they had no customers, but because every one of them was taking the opportunity to sit outside.  It’s very nearly October; these were the last weather conditions I, and clearly many others, were expecting.

And so I have two galleries of images here; the autumnal fruits that are the last efforts of Demeter before she neglects the world, and the bright, golden hues of an unexpected burst of summer.  Persephone had clearly forgotten to pack something.

Demeter
By Carol Ann Duffy

Where I lived—winter and hard earth.
I sat in my cold stone room
choosing tough words, granite, flint,

to break the ice. My broken heart—
I tried that, but it skimmed,
flat, over the frozen lake.

She came from a long, long way,
but I saw her at last, walking,
my daughter, my girl, across the fields,

in bare feet, bringing all spring’s flowers
to her mother’s house. I swear
the air softened and warmed as she moved,

the blue sky smiling, none too soon,
with the small shy mouth of a new moon.