Ricordi di Torricella
Memories of Torricella

Holiday Remembrances (Easter and more)

Joseph Cionni (Peppinucio Cionna)
 (chis di Bindet)

During the Lenten season, there were special services in church which led up to Holy Week (the week preceding Easter). One phase of the church services took place at the end of each function when the priest, with a hand clapping, would signal the attendees to begin making noise, such as banging against a door, stomping feet against the wooden seats, etc.; after a few minutes, he would signal the end of the noise making. I never found out the meaning of this ritual, and if I knew it then, I have forgotten it. I have not, however, forgotten that my father, or his apprentice (Ettore), made for me a noise maker for the above purpose; the device was called tac-mac and consisted of a piece of wood, about 12" by 5" with a handle underneath and a hinged hammer-like piece that would strike the wood platform when swung in either direction, thus making noise. The tac-mac was also used during Holy Week when church bells were silent; children would walk the streets with the noise makers to advise people of impending church services.

Holy Week was marked by many religious ceremonies. On Palm Sunday, there was blessing of the palms (olive tree branches) and a procession in the church. The gospel on Palm Sunday is the longest of them all. Holy Thursday, the day of the last supper, was celebrated with a "High Mass". On Holy Friday, in late afternoon, there was a procession that has left an indelible mark in my mind. A statue of the dead Christ was placed on a platform draped with a black velvet cloth and was carried on the shoulder of six men (pall bearers); immediately following the dead Christ was the statue of Mary in sorrow (Madonna Addolorata) also carried on the shoulders of four men. The statues were followed by the priest, altar boys, mayor, chief of police and other dignitaries; following these people, were many persons, mostly men. Women and children were lined up in two single files ahead of the statues and carried a lighted candle. All would sing religious songs that were appropriate for the occasion. Men especially would harmonize to the melodies sung by female voices. Of note, one should mention that many of the men in the procession were inspired to sing by a good deal of wine consumed prior to the procession; some of these men could be seen walking arm-in-arm behind the priest. People along the way would make the sign of the cross and/or kiss the statues. The procession went through main street and several other streets ending in the church where the function was concluded.

On Holy Saturday, a huge bonfire was built on the small piazza in front of the church. The priest would bless the fire and people would take home small twigs partially burned (cinders) thus blessing their own fireplaces. I donít know the meaning of the bonfire, either.

Easter Sunday was a very special day. The day commemorating the resurrection of Christ, as every Christian knows, is the highest Catholic holiday. High Mass, bells ringing, people wearing their best attires; greetings of Buona Pasqua (Happy Easter) resound everywhere. The food was fabulous: ravioli, roasted lamb and fiadone (a ricotta cheese cake) were the main features. Another custom was to bake pound cake (pan di spagna) in the form of hearts and give it to family members and friends as gifts. The fancy hearts were also made of chocolate, almonds and with icing on top. Chocolate eggs, some with little toys inside, were also used as gifts; but only people of means could afford them. Pizza dolce was also common (a torte made with pound cake layered with chocolate and/or vanilla cream and basted with port wine, coffee liqueur and brandy).

The day after Easter is referred to as Pasquetta (little Easter): just an extra day to continue the celebration.

The Sunday after Easter is designated as líottavo di Pasqua (the eighth day after Easter); this was the day for a lavish picnic in the countryside. With the picnic, ended the Easter season.

Since I am on the subject of feasts, I will continue on the same. The feasts of St. Vincenzo, St.Giacomo, St. Marziale and St.Giovanni were celebrated with the usual high Mass and by being giorni di fiera, or fair days, where vendors would line up and down Corso Umberto with their goods, usually displayed under tents or canopies. One would never pay the asking price. Goods consisted of any imaginable item. Prior to world war II, animals, such as horses, pigs, sheep and cows were also sold or traded; one could see them in a large field right below the park; the field is now occupied with new houses, including the administration building or comune.

On St. Giovanniís day, as the folklore goes, the sun washed its face. I vividly recall one occasion when my parents allowed me to watch the sun rise from their balcony, which faced the East. I remember the event as if it happened yesterday (today is 3/26/2002); there were few clouds in the area of the rising sun at about 5:00 am; as the sun was rising with its brilliant orange-red glow, I yelled that the sun was washing its face, then it dried the face with a towel, after throwing away the water. My enthusiasm woke up my parents who gave me strong encouragement to go back to bed.

I think that imaginations, fantasies and dreams are very important in developing young minds; later in life, they will serve as catalysts for visions that will turn into realities.

St.Marziale is the patron saint of Torricella; how did he become patron? Well the story goes that early in the 19th century there was a serious drought locally; the torricellani decided that they needed a patron saint to protect them from natural disasters. Two citizens, who were wise and experienced, were dispatched to a factory where statues of saints were built. The two paraded up and down the isle where the statues were displayed. One of the menís cappotto or cape got caught by an extended arm of the statue of St.Marziale; this happening made the man turn around suddenly and said that the saint tugged at his coat and that he must want to be the protector of Torricella; the other man said: may be so, but he is only a child (San Marziale was about seven years old when he died), and how can a child be the patron of a large town with over four thousands inhabitants? Allegedly the two argued, but in the end, San Marziale became the patron saint of Torricella.

Corpus Domini was a solemn and great religious feast. The sacred Host is carried by the priest, under a canopy, in a procession through the streets of town. The streets are decorated with flowers, forming a carpet on which the priest and followers walked; the balconies were adorned with beautiful bedspreads and crochet linens. The task of decorating took many days and many people.

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