“My heart is repentant and broken; my soul is in torment / Jesus I have sinned so much, only you can save me”. Thus, began Mary Magdalene’s song in Basciano, during the Good Friday procession through the streets of the town, down alleyways and across open countryside, when a double procession started in unison from different places: from one side of the town a desperate Mary and from the other Christ’s dead body, both accompanied by sermons and songs, advanced towards the painful reunion. It was a path of cyclical atonement, dominated by the symbol of the Cross and interpreted for centuries in the ritual form of a collective sacra rappresentazione or holy performance, to remind the community of the fulfilment of the heavenly path that awaits it.
o il cuor pentito e affranto, ho l’anima in tormento / Gesù ho peccato tanto, tu sol mi puoi salvar”. Inizia così il canto della Maddalena di Basciano, durante la processione del Venerdì Santo per le vie del paese, fra vicoli e aperta campagna, quando un doppio corteo parte all’unisono da luoghi diversi: Maria disperata da un lato, dall’altro il Cristo ormai defunto, circondati da prediche e canti, avanzano verso il doloroso ricongiungimento. È un percorso di ciclica espiazione, dominato dal simbolo della Croce e interpretato per secoli nella forma rituale di una sacra rappresentazione collettiva, per ricordare alla comunità il compimento del cammino celeste che la attende.
In Basciano, a hilltop village of the Middle Vomano, until the 1980s the young women of the town interpreted the figures of the Passion of Christ, chanting alternately, in chorus or solo voice, the processional melodies that describe the sufferings of torture and narrate the hardship of waiting, the certainty of death, repentance and the request for forgiveness. They were the Swords and the Wounds, the Weepers and the Marias, the Banners and the Calvary, the Barbarian Heart and the Crosses, and then Mary Magdalene and Veronica, each with their respective insignia and symbols and the different singing parts, in a hierarchy of roles that presupposed the progressive formation of the voice from infancy to the threshold of adulthood, up to the girls got married. During the rehearsals they were taught by the most experienced townspeople how to express in public the emotions of pain and despair through the performance of the different singing parts, how to control their body language and how to walk in the processions, one dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows coming out of St James’s Church , and the other carrying the canopy with the body of the Dead Christ, coming from the main church ,which finally merged to become one compact processional assembly leading up to the final blessing of the parish priest.
Of a Jesuit style, modelled on the sixteenth-century penitential processions, with their transformation into funeral processions accompanying the body of Christ, elaborated by baroque piety, this kind of procession is centred on the scripted and embodied meditation on the passion and death of Jesus. Particularly widespread in the area of the Middle and Lower Vomano, dominated by the presence of women, they were, however, in some cases such as at Villa Petto, preceded by a procession of men; in Basciano the procession of the Dead Christ was opened by the figure of Death, followed by a drummer and by St. Michael the Archangel, by a first Cross and then by a further thirty-two Crosses, interpreted and carried, in general, by male figures.
After each sung part a comment was made to explain the meaning of the rite with brief descriptions of the figures and their functions in the path of the suffering of Christ and in that of Mary, who searches for him desperately, accompanied by exhortations and messages of redemption and salvation.
WATCH THE VIDEO
The photos of the procession
The expert Aristide Di Filippo observes and comments on the photos of the 1982 procession.
Basciano (TE), December 30th 2012.
Filming by Gianfranco Spitilli, Don Nicola Jobbi Study Centre Archive /Bambun.
Transmission and Conservation
The Good Friday procession of Basciano, transmitted orally by the old generations, was rediscovered in the late 1960s, after some years of interruption, by three teachers; Giuseppe Martegiani, Benito Di Filippo and Tullio Tiberi. Their desire to bring back this tradition in all its various aspects led them to turn to a local carpenter who knew everything about the repertoires sung in the Easter procession, the roles and the equipment necessary for building the complex scenic elements. The rehearsals began during Lent in the parish hall of the little church of St James and were led by the old craftsman together with the new coordinators who taught the young people the repertoire and body language to be used during the long procession. Tullio Tiberi also made a detailed recording of the voices of the time, which remains one of the few available sound testimonies of the procession, later interrupted again in 1983, when the new parish priest, who had just taken over, judged this kind of ceremony a legacy of paganism and eliminated both its forms and its contents.
We can still appreciate the commitment of those who collaborated in the complex organization of the procession which was in that period repeated at three-year intervals and the precious photographic documentation of many fans is preserved for posterity together with research by Aristide Di Filippo and Emilio Di Nicola, who formalized some significant elements and ensured the transmission of memories with the publication of articles and the transcription of the entire textual part of the performance , accompanied by the description of its development.
In recent years, as part of the European project entitled Réseau Tramontana, additional testimonies have been collected through video interviews and recordings of sung parts, short montages and web dissemination of a part of the collected materials, included in a broader framework of systematic research on the Good Friday processions of the Vomano and Mavone valleys.