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What is Holy Week, or Settimana Santa? Well, it’s essentially the days before Easter – but without as many chocolate eggs and fluffy bunnies on the shelves (though they’re not totally absent!). As its name implies, Holy Week is a sacred occasion, concerned with the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. Held between Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter) and Holy Saturday, it is celebrated throughout the world, with some of the most beautiful events, characterised by solemn processions, taking place in and around Naples.
Book an Italian break to coincide with this event, and you’ll experience a true taste of Campanian culture.
Settimana Santa: everything you need to know
Settimana Santa: Holy Week
From food to family trips, there are a host of general traditions that come with Settimana Santa. Mussel soup is on the menu of most Neapolitan restaurants from Holy Thursday, while on Good Friday, families usually visit their departed in the city’s cemeteries. On Holy Saturday, locals go shopping for their Easter provisions (pannetone and colomba – dove-shaped bread – are popular) and get down to some spring cleaning! On Sunday, the main mass takes place, and on Monday, families leave the city to enjoy a day with a picnic. All over Italy, towns hold concerts, dances and games – it’s a day to have fun!
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Settimana Santa: Palm Sunday
On Palm Sunday, colourful confetti and celebrations are the order of the day. While usually characterised by palm fronds, Italy has used olive branches for centuries: readily available, Neapolitans decorate cakes and sweets with them, and hang them above their doors where they’ll stay till next year’s Palm Sunday. A day of cheer and revelry, this is the day that recalls Jesus entering Jerusalem to joyous crowds – in Naples, people are blessed by priests alongside their branches, and eat locally produced small cheeses called caciocavallo.
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Settimana Santa: Holy Thursday
While there are processions all over the Naples area, the most impressive are undoubtedly in nearby Sorrento. On Holy Thursday in the early hours of the morning, the Procession of Our Lady of Sorrows takes place. This represents the Madonna looking for her son, and hundreds of people parade through the town in white, hooded gowns. Carrying the Virgin aloft, they stop off at each of the town’s churches for a ceremony.
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Settimana Santa: Good Friday
The following night, rites are continued with the Procession of the Crucified Christ, representing the Madonna discovering the death of her son. Larger than the first, the participants now wear black, hooded gowns. A children’s choir accompanies the funeral march, and all over the town, people visit parishes to pay homage to Christ’s death. In Procida, an island just an hour’s ferry from Naples, trumpets and drums sound out to begin the event (and wake up sleepy attendants...) while the procession itself sees men (no ladies allowed) dress in blue, accompanied by wagons of food and religious sculptures that they call ‘Mysteries’.
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Settimana Santa: Naples
When in Naples, make sure to explore the attractions of the city as well as the surrounding area. Procida is an hour’s ferry ride away, and Sorrento just an hour’s drive – the amazing sights of Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii are situated half way between the two. The isles of Capri and Ischia are also just a short drive away, so it’s certainly worth staying longer to see all of the attractions after Holy Week celebrations have ended.
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Main image © jbgeronimi
Image 1 © Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar
Image 2 © Matt Browne
Image 3 © Cristiano Cani
Image 4 © Richard Leeming
Image 5 © Scott Anderson
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