Guardia Sanframondi , BN
- Italy -
The riti settennali di penitenza, a very special rite coming straight from medieval traditions of penitence, held every seven years , commemorating the discovery of a Madonna and Child statue found in a field hundreds of years ago. The rite consists of a series of processions the week following the Assumption. There are four elements in the rite:
Mysteries: the four quarters of the town each organize a parade of mysteries (religious scenes) with characters in costume from the Old Testament, New Testament, and Lives of Saints. The neighboring towns of San Lorenzo Maggiore and San Lupo join with the committees to stage a few of the mysteries. During the week each quarter of town has a separate procession through its own neighborhood, while on Sunday all the quarters parade together.
Choirs - each quarter also forms a choir that joins the processions. Traditionally the choirs were formed of unmarried girls, but recently married women, and occasionally men, have joined in. The women wear white clothing, a symbolic crowns of thorns, and braided cords around their shoulders.
Penitents - During the processions, several flagellanti (flagellants) join in striking their backs with a metal scourge. On the Sunday procession is joined by several hundred battenti (beaters) who strike their chests with a spugna (a disk of cork holding dozens of pins). Designated helpers pour white wine on the sponges during the procession, supposedly to ward off infection. The flagellanti and battenti are anonymous, they wear white hoods and are not even supposed to tell family members they are participating. The battenti are all men, although a few of the flagellanti are women.
Statue - The rite ends with the procession of the Madonna and Child statue through the town. After the mysteries start, the statue is removed from the church, at which point a cannon sounds to announce the event. The procession stops and everyone kneels for a minute. When the statue makes its way to the town center, the battenti walk in front of it on their knees. When the procession continues, the crowds follow the statue, or walk backwards in front of it. The procession ends as the statue is returned to the church. All-night vigils in the church continue for several days.