The beginnings of this celebration are unclear but some say it was to commemorate a victory of the town and others that it is to honour the goddess Ceres. Either of these would date the start of the event to the 1100s, making it one of the oldest festivals held in Italy.
Here is a message about the situation this year from our friend in Gubbio, Mariella Baldinelli.
‘Unfortunately, the Ceri festival will not take place this year. Only the religious celebrations and the bell ringing in honour of Sant’ Ubaldo will take place but not the “corsa dei Ceri”. you can imagine how sad and hard it is for all the “ceraioli” and Gubbio. Sunday was “the descent of the Ceri”. With my children we looked at some pictures of the past “discesi dei Ceri” and the nostalgia for those emotions shared by a whole people was deep. Nevertheless, we have put the “stendardi” at the windows and Gubbio is, once more, covered with the colours of the three Ceri, but last Sunday the silence was deafening.’
In normal times, the Ceris – St Ubaldo (Paton saint and Protector of the town), St Georgio (protector of merchants) and St Antonio (protector of farmers) remain in the Palazzo for two weeks following the descent, until the 15th May.
This day is the anniversary of the death of Saint Ubaldo and is celebrated with a parade, and a race between teams representing the three saints. This highly colourful spectacle sees the onlookers and competitors dressed in the colours of the Saints, yellow for St. Ubaldo, blue for St. Georgio and black for St. Antonio.
Relay teams of men carry the Ceris aloft, charging up the hillside in a 2.5-mile race along the streets and into the hillside as the teams race up Mount Ingino towards the Basilica of St. Ubaldo. Quite a feat as each Ceri is a piece of carved wood weighing over 800 lbs and covered in wax to represent a candle, topped with a statue of one of the saints. The teams of men are changed every 75 yards because of the physical nature of the task in confronting the incline and the weight of the wooden candle. This also means more people can take part and it also protects the wooden candle from potential damage.
This exciting event sees the whole town, surrounding area and many tourists flock to Gubbio to take part and witness it, as you can see from the photographs and YouTube link! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WVKn8Tocwsc
Thanks to Mariella Baldinelli, Lorena Scalamonti and Tenhunen photos for text and images.