Rose Petals and Candlelight in Viterbo

DSC_2635Festival season continues around Italy as the summer draws to a close and autumn approaches.  One of the most fascinating and impressive festival in September is held on the 3rd in Viterbo as thousands of people gather to celebrate their patron Santa Rosa.  The touching story of a young girl’s faith in the 13th century is commemorated by a day of banquets, parades, medieval costumes and ultimately the triumphant parade of the Macchina di Santa Rosa, a 30 metre high swirling metal structure weighing 5 tons and covered in candles and red roses.  The medieval symbols of the lovely papal city of Viterbo, the fountain, the palm tree and the lion, are all represented on the enormous structure, which twirls its way towards the skies in a triple helix topped by nine angels holding the globe on which stands the statue of Santa Rosa, reaching to heaven.  After darkness falls, we watch the traditional ten teams of ten men dressed in symbolic white with red sashes line up after their blessing in the church.  Eery silence falls as they prepare to carry the huge flaming tower, glowing ruby red and gold, through the narrow winding streets of the beautiful medieval centre of Viterbo.  Fifty thousand people line the streets and fill the grandstand erected in the ancient square to see the Macchina rise above the buildings and sway precariously on the shoulders of the teams.  Incredibly, it arrives in the square without toppling over, crushing hundreds and setting fire to the town.  This seems miracle enough!  There is a fanfare of music and suddenly the tower erupts in a shower of blood red rose petals, fluttering through the darkness and the glittering candles, to the cheers of the crowd, all jostling to catch a petal.  Somehow, the amazing feat of strength, bravery and beauty affects everyone in our party and we all laugh and hug as we try to capture petals for ourselves.  As the Macchina wends its way back to the church and the crowd disperses, we are delighted by the happiness so evident all around us, the mood being one of celebration, with no one rushing to find their car or make their getaway.  We stop in an enoteca whose old wooden cellar doors are flung open into the night and we are welcomed by the local crowd who cheerfully help us nudge our way to the bar for glasses of wine.  As we nibble salumi and cheese and clink our glasses with the smiling crowd, we all agree that Santa Rosa must indeed have been, like her Macchina is now called, a Fiore del Cielo — a Flower of Heaven.