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Holy Week in Sardinia: Easter origins and traditions

holy week in sardinia
Holy Week in Sardinia

The rites of Holy Week in Sardinia sink in the archaic rites of the Mediterranean populations, linked to the cult of the renewal of the land and the seasons.

The pagan divinities were attributed to the flourishing of nature, but with the arrival of the Jewish religion first and then Christianity, the contamination between religious aspects and archaic rites merged into a single celebration still pervaded with mystery.

Where does the word Pasqua (Easter) come from?

The word “Pasqua” (Italian for Easter) derives from the Aramaic Pasha (“jump”), a term that indicated the ritual feast celebrated by Semitic nomadic shepherds before leaving for the pastures.

At the arrival of spring, the “Pasha” was marked by a ritual dance and the sacrifice of the firstborn of the flock. With their blood, the huts were sprinkled to protect families and livestock.

Holy Week’s rites have inherited many symbols of the Jewish Easter: from lamb to bread, from liturgy to date, but still they retain traces of the cult of the land and millenary traditions, such as the buds grown in the dark (Su Nènniri) or the purification of houses (“is allichirongius de Pasca” in Sardinian language).

Chenapùra (in Sardinian “Friday”) is instead a direct legacy of the Semitic tradition: on Friday, in fact, as in the Pasha-Hag hamatzot, many abstained from some foods considered impure.

It was the Spanish domination in Sardinia that enriched the rites of Holy Week and made them so theatrical and full of mystery: the slow pace of the confraternities, the faces covered with hoods or veils, the silence and tears that characterize the deposition and parade of the dead Christ are broken only by the feast of S’incontru, the meeting between the Risen Christ and the Madonna on Easter Day.

Holy week in Cagliari

The rites of Holy Week in Cagliari involve the four historic districts of Castello, Stampace, Villanova, and Marina but the heart of the procession is Piazza San Giacomo, where there is the Oratory of the Holy Crucifix, the cradle of the eighteenth-century seven statues of the Mysteries, then transported to several churches of Cagliari. On the Friday before Palm Sunday, the procession of Is Misterius starts here.

On Good Friday, the statue of Jesus Crucified is carried from the church of San Giovanni to the Cathedral, accompanied by the statue of Our Lady of Sorrows and wings of the crowd. In the parade, two ancient banners depicting the symbols of passion stand out: they represent the rooster, nails, sword, cloak, and dice of Roman soldiers.

Another very suggestive rite, called Su Scravamentu, takes place on the Holy Saturday: is represents the deposition of Christ from the cross on a litter covered with veils.

The silence of the Easter processions is broken by the explosion of happiness on Easter Sunday when at 11 a.m, the risen Christ meets the Madonna in the middle of Via Garibaldi: “S’Incontru” is a moment of great emotion for believers but also for people walking by who can’t help to stop a second along the road and observe the maximum silence at the time of the triple bow of the simulacra.

Holy Week in Ottana

Particular and different from all the other Sardinian rites is that of Su Iscravamentu in Ottana. On Good Friday, in the cathedral of San Nicola built between 1140 and 1160, Christ is laid down from the cross, accompanied by the guttural voices of the tenors who sing the verses of one of the sardinian poems most dear to the Ottanese, “The song of the Holy Life”.

It is a 226 octave work, written in the first half of 1800 by the Ottanese poet Giuseppe Soru, farmer and son of farmers, illiterate, but with such a memory as to compose and dictate the verses of his work to a scribe.

The song tells the story of the creation of the universe until the resurrection of Jesus.

In the rite of S’ Iscravamentu the tenor plays a fundamental role, because the actions of the Jews while removing Christ from the cross are dictated by the song of the four voices “Boghe, mesu boghe, bassu and contra”.

Easter rites in Cuglieri

The small town of Cuglieri, in the province of Oristano, recalls the rites of Holy Week through the processions and solemn songs of the five “Cunfrarias”, the brotherhoods of the Convento, Carmelo, San Giovanni, and the Rosario, which are joined by the crowd from the surrounding villages.
Here the usual liturgy offers a peculiarity: the statue of Jesus wanders for the churches throughout the country, the so-called “Chilcas”.

The Spanish influence on the statues’ iconography is clear, above all in the “Sorrowful Virgin”, the main figure of the celebrations. There are, however, traces of the Campidano, Logudoro and Barbagia traditions, such as the ritual of sowing grains of wheat or legumes in a plate full of wet cotton wool on Ash Wednesday, to germinate “Is Nènniri“.

Easter celebrations in Iglesias

Easter celebrations in Iglesias are perhaps those that better evokes the painful atmosphere of the Spanish Easter tradition: in the city that is named after the number of churches built since the Middle Ages (Iglesias comes from the ancient Villa di Chiesa), the processions faithfully follow the seventeenth-century Iberian liturgy.

This is testified above all by the “baballottis“, impersonated by adults and children, who in ancient times represented the ” Disciplinanti”: ghostly, with their faces covered and their long white robes, they accompany the statue of the Virgin through the streets of the historic center in search of Jesus on Holy Thursday.

holy week in Sardinia
Baballottis, Iglesias

The Procession of the Descense is the highlight of Good Friday. The crowd of pilgrims, accompanied by the sound of drums and matraccas, recites the rosary and follows the statue of the Virgin torn by pain, along with the statue of the dead Jesus, San Giovanni, Maria Maddalena, Is Varonis (the nobles Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea) and Is Vexillas.

Holy Week in Castelsardo

It is one of the oldest processions dedicated to Easter rites in Sardinia: the Brotherhood of the Oratory of Santa Croce parades with the Mysteries depicting the Passion, Crucifixion and Deposition of Christ. In the alleys illuminated only by the light of torches, the procession proceeds slowly accompanied by Gregorian choirs, creating a timeless atmosphere.

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