La Festa Dei Ceri (Race of the Candles)

The beautiful Umbrian fortress town of Gubbio, which seems caught in a pre-Renaissance time warp, normally celebrates La Festa dei Ceri in mid-May – we look forward to next year! It’s a dizzying fusion of gaiety and religious devotion, and an unusual race with a preordained outcome.

The ceri or “candlesticks” are three gigantic wooden structures over twenty feet tall and weigh about 900 pounds, built out of octagonal sections so that they look almost like chess pieces. Each is crowned with carvings of saints Ubaldo, Giorgio, and Antonio who, respectively, protect masons, merchants, and farmers. Costumed throngs of locals — garbed in the dedicated color for each of the saints (yellow for Ubaldo, blue for Giorgio, and black for Antonio) — party in the narrow streets and piazzas in anticipation of the ritual afternoon race of the saints.

With a roar from the multitude, the ceri are hoisted up by teams of local young men who haul the giant pedestals along the Corsa dei Ceri at running speed to the top of Mount Ingino. Though always exciting, the ritual race is not one you want to bet on: St. Ubaldo, the town’s patron, wins every time. This heralds a year of good fortune for the town.

The festival inspires such passion among people of the region and their descendants that homesick Italian soldiers enacted it within the bloody landscape of World War II. And in the United States, Jessup, Pennsylvania, just outside of Scranton, performs a nearly identical “Race of the Saints” to celebrate St. Ubaldo’s Day on the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend (also postponed until 2021).

Photos courtesy of Frank Yantorno, artist, photographer and Ciclismo Classico guide who lives outside of Bolzano.

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