Easter is the biggest Mystery that Church celebrates every year to recall Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ. In Sicily the Easter Mystery is celebrated with Sacred liturgies, religious dramas, parades, processions, songs and prayers raised up to invoke the forgiveness of sins.
The Scriptures are interpreted with a great holy drama in which faithful become actors and protagonists. In Petralia Sottana the fellow brothers with the cloaks, the pious women with the face hidden by their hair, the Jews with weapons and armoured uniforms, the children dressed up as angels, live and perform the Holy Week drama.
The evocative set of this holy drama is the wonderful old town of Petralia Sottana, with its places, its streets and its churches. In the afternoon of Holy Thursday in the Church of Saints Mark and Biagio takes place the ancient and concealed rite of “Lady of Sorrows’ clothing”: She wears the colours of mourning, a purple dress and a black velvet embroidered mantle, her head is covered by a white lacy bonnet and her hand holds a white handkerchief.
The statues of dead Christ and of the Lady of Sorrows are placed in front of the high altar to be venerated by the faithful until late at night. In the morning of Good Friday the statues are transferred to the Calvary, an omega-shaped architectural structure with three crosses. The presence of the statue of dead Christ is announced through a shroud that hangs from the bigger cross to the faithful, who can see the Calvary from their windows or from the Cathedral square.
Men dressed up as Roman soldiers, but traditionally called Jewish, guard the Calvary scene and open and close the way to the continuous stream of faithful who visit the remains of Christ. While the statues are carried to the Calvary, the city loses its voice: the bells are fastened, and in their place resonates u trucculuni (the rattle), while the brotherhoods put aside the bells to use the truoccule.
The Brotherhoods and Congregations, wearing the traditional mourning costume, after the Adoration of the Holy Cross’ Liturgy (where you can admire a beautiful silver cross of the twelfth century) parade towards the Calvary with the pious women, Veronica and a multitude of faithful paying homage to the dead Christ.
Then the procession, unchanged for centuries in hierarchies and rituals, starts to move first towards the Mother Church, and then towards the Church of Saints Mark and Biagio, in order to put back the statues. During the night between Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday the Easter Vigil Liturgy takes place. It is a rite rich in symbolism, including the lighting and blessing of the New Fire with which Easter candle is lighted and then placed on the eleventh century Arabic candelabra, a rare and valuable work of art.
During the liturgies the church is in the dark, and at midnight the announcement of the Resurrection of the Redeemer is given by the so-called Caduta du Tiluni (curtain fall), the fall of the great and distressing dark canvas that has covered for forty days Mother Church’s presbytery hiding it from the view of the faithful. At the Caduta du Tiluni an explosion of light reveals again the architecture of the church and light up the image of the Risen. In the past, the success of the curtain fall was seen as a harbinger for the new crop year.
The emotional involvement of the Holy Week in Petralia Sottana culminates with the joyful and moving Ncuontru (Encounter) on Easter Sunday at noon. From the early hours of the morning, the bells keep ringing joyfully announcing the Resurrection of Christ, while the congregants of the Brotherhoods get ready to wear their traditional solemn feast clothes.
The statue of the Virgin, still cloaked in black for mourning, is carried on the shoulders by the Confraternity of the Most Holy. Rosary, while the honor of carrying the statue of the Risen Christ is reserved for the Confraternity of Most Holy Sacrament. The procession is opened by the Brotherhoods and Congregations bearing standards, crucifixes, big torches, little standards and little halberds. The Brotherhoods and Congregations are identified by the colours of the ornaments and strictly follow the order of foundation, before the youngest one and finally the oldest one.
The two statues are carried through the city center following different routes and then they stop at precise points of the town near the Chianu u Culleggiu, where they await the firecrackers’ shot and the signal of the masters of ceremonies: three trumpets’ blasts, three shots. The Risen Christ and the Virgin move so one can glimpse the other, and finally they run into each other. The Mother recognizes the Son and loses the veil of pain. Mother and Son embrace in an atmosphere of applauses, tears of emotion, flight of white doves, shots of firecrackers and notes of the musical band.
It is a fascinating, joyful ceremony, that seems a pledge of better times. After the days of penance of Lent and of Holy Week with rituals related to pain, silence, atonement and reflection, joy explodes with firecrackers, the return of colours, sounds, voices and light. The embrace between Mother and Son expresses a collective and liberating pathos that gives trust for a better future. Soon after, the statues together, one facing and watching the other, walk through the old town and return to the Mother Church.
It is such a rite of hope and good fortune that once, in the neighboring towns, it was customary to include in contracts of marriage the promise of the husband to bring the bride to see U Ncuontru of Petralia Sottana, also because it was considered one of the most beautiful and evocative religious celebration of the territory.
Today the participation in the event is no longer an obligation for the husband, but the embrace between the Mother and the Son believed lost is always a suggestive and emotional moment of collective joy. It is still believed that to attend this event is a good omen for faithful and tourists who flock here every year. A visit in Petralia offers to tourists and visitors the opportunity to immerse in the heart of the Madonie and appreciate its natural and cultural resources that spread throughout the historical centers and the surrounding territory, the wonderful and very impressive spring landscape and the goodness of food and local productions.