On the 6th of January every year, La Befana, the Italian witch, delivers treats to children across Italy, just as Babbo Natale does on Christmas Eve. But la Befana is a witch (albeit, a good one) who travels by broom, magically swishing down chimneys and leaving presents in children's pillow cases, stockings and shoes.
In her hometown of Urbania--in the region of Marche--50,000 Italians celebrate this good witch's arrival with literally tons of desserts and foods. Throughout the streets and piazzas, you will find theater performances, fire-eaters, la Befana on stilts and also be amazed when she flies overhead (on a cable). The Festa Nazionale della Befana gives an alternative insight of holiday celebrations... it's perhaps one of the best festivals of the holiday season.
Click on the photo above to watch a video of this festival
Bergoglio is a common Italian surname from the Piedemont region of Italy, although in this case, this man is called Jorge (Giorgio, in Italian) and he was born in Argentina. Yes, that Jorge Bergoglio, also known as Pope Francis.
In the last few months, there has been a uprising and controversy when a video went viral--of Pope Francis pulling his ringed hand away from people as he meets. People are angry because HE isn't showing any respect for the Church or its traditions.
The video that caused this controversy was from video footage of meeting of pilgrims after the Pope celebrated Mass in the Holy House in Loreto, Italy, on March 25, 2019. In this short video, Pope Francis appears to pull his hand away each time a person approaches to greet him and kiss his hand or ring. But this video didn't exactly show everything that happened that day. In fact, when approached by nuns, in every instance, he allowed them to kiss his hand or ring. But, when it came to the lay people that day, he pulled his hand away from each... (Watch the complete video on this page)
The custom of kissing the ring of the pope or a bishop has been a gesture of respect in the Church for longer than can be remembered, but likely started in the late Middle Ages. In fact, when I was a child, I remember having to kiss our bishop's ring whenever he visited our church. This ring-kissing is called baciamano (in Italian, literally "hand kiss”), but in practice it refers to kissing the ring worn by any bishop, but especially the Papal Ring of the Fisherman worn by every Pope.
Each Pope chooses, designs or selects his own ring to wear during his Papacy. The Fisherman’s Ring is one of several rings typically worn by the Roman pontiff. The ring takes its name from its image of St. Peter as a fisherman, which became the standard design around the mid-15th century.
The first record of the ring’s use was on two letters of Clement IV in 1265 and 1266, used as a wax seal in private letters in place of the official lead seal used for solemn papal documents. In 1842, use of the ring and wax seal were replaced by a stamp, but each Pope still receives a unique Ring of the Fisherman at the start of his papacy, which is then destroyed soon after his death.
Pope Francis doesn't always wear the Papal Ring, and while outside of official Papal ceremonies, Francis is typically seen wearing only his episcopal ring. It is customary to kiss the ring of any bishop, and being that the Pope also holds the title of Bishop of Rome, he is also technically a Bishop.
Kissing a Bishop's ring is done out of reverence for his dignity as a successor of the apostles, and the hand of a priest, as it has been anointed with chrism to consecrate the Body of Christ.
The custom of baciamano started to change with St. Paul VI in the last decades of the 20th century, when he eliminated other forms of showing Papal obedience and subservience, such as kissing the pope’s foot, shoulder, and cheek. Kissing the Pope's ring was starting to fall from favor. In the past, one typically bowed while kissing the ring, but in later years, the bowing has also started to disappear.
Some Vatican insiders claim that Francis retreats from traditional Vatican Court Customs, wanting to further simplify the ceremonial by omitting the greeting of genuflection and kissing his ring. He sees this as a lessen to the people of his Church that he is also a common man, and only Christ Himself is worth of such respect. He will still allow those "of the cloth", such as nuns and priests to kiss his hand/ring (as is seen in the unedited video of the event in question). He is respecting the internal hierarchy of the Catholic Church in doing this. The Pope is in fact, their leader. But he does not wish everyday people to treat him as if he were some sort of religious idol. He is an "everyman Pope". So he often pulls pack his hand as a lesson for us not to idolize him.
Other Reasons for
Pulling Back His Hand
Still others, point out that the Pope is a senior citizen, and as such, has a weakened immune system. It's prudent to lessen the contact with parishioners, especially during events when the Pope is likely to have thousands try to kiss his hand. Even politicians on their political hand-shaking and baby-kissing campaigns have their aides squirt their palms with Purell after each public event.
Anecdotally, I will confess to changing my habits when food shopping when my son was a toddler, riding in the supermarket cart while I shopped. In the first couple of years, it seemed both of us were getting sick a lot... 4-6 times a year we would catch colds. But then I started to use the antiseptic wipes available in supermarkets to wipe down the handle of our shopping cart, and we magically stopped catching colds!
I think we can all give the Pope the benefit of doubt on this matter. He is an older man and can catch colds like any other mortal human. He is also a humble Pope and doesn't like being treated like a king or monarch or even the embodiment of the Christ Himself.
I think this can be a teachable moment. Use wipes at the supermarket --my lesson. The Pope is just a man, like all others --Francis' lesson. We are all children of God while we are in this mortal form. Germs DO exist and are transferred instantly by touch.
There, I've said my piece. Now, does anyone have a Wipe?
Most Italians work long hours. In the average business, their weekday hours are 9.00 am (9:00) to 1.00 pm (13:00) and from 2.30 pm (14:30) to 6.00 pm (18:00), from Monday to Friday. They use the 24 hour military clock.
Many people will work well after 6.00 pm, especially true for managers and entrepreneurs. This is one of the reasons they take long lunches--called riposa--typically from 1 pm until 3 - 3:30 pm. Even most churches are closed from noon until 3 pm.
There are many jobs which have their workers come in from Monday through Saturday, but they only work from 8.00 am to 2.00 pm. When a business is closed on Saturday, they might also add a few afternoon hours for their employees. According to Italian labor laws, the number of hours worked in a week can reach a maximum of 40. The average time, including overtime, cannot exceed 48 hours.
Workers in Italy are guaranteed a minimum of 4 weeks paid days off for vacation and holidays. Some unions negotiate even longer periods of paid vacation/holiday days off.
Lunch breaks are typically shorter in large cities and restaurants are open during the lunch hours. In smaller towns, even restaurants will be closed during riposa because most people prefer to eat at home. (But food is available at "bars", which are open).
In almost all cases, many shops, even in large cities, will be closed for riposa with their hours listed on the door.
In addition, during the August holiday season of Ferragosto, when workers take from 2-4 weeks off for holiday, you might see a sign on shop or restaurant doors saying "Chiuso Per Ferie" (Closed for Vacation) with a date when they will return from vacation.
Most Italians take a two week vacation (called Ferragosto on August 15th) either before or after August 15th. Most large industries are closed during August and many museums and restaurants might also be closed. Many people take the entire month to rest and relax before returning to work and school on September 4th.
The other period of time when holidays might affect normal business hours is the period between Christmas, New Year's Day and the Epiphany on January 6. Since Italy is a Catholic country, many national holidays coincide with religious holidays.
In addition, all Italian cities celebrate the patron saint as a legal holiday. All businesses are closed on...
Enzo Schillizzi (b 1955 - d 2009) lived in the small Albanian-Italian village of San Costantino Albanese above the banks of the Sarmento River. The artist spent almost all his life in this small village just outside of Potenza, painting the local life and culture in murals all around the area.
His work focused on the cultural symbolism of arbëresh tradition and folklore, especially on religious rites, for example, illustrating Nusazit, the pyrotechnic puppets of the saints day of San Constantino Albanese. Proud of the region's heritage, he recorded his impressions of the romantic and violent history of Basilicata and the briganti, robber/rebels who ran rampant during the post-unification period if Italy. Other subjects were his own interpretations of of painters such as Velasquez and Picasso.
Some works are childlike, with indeed a Picasso-esque loose hand, while others show his extraordinary skill as a draftsman.
After his untimely death, in July 2009, an effort has been made to research, document and restore and preserve his wonderful murals in addition to paintings privately owned. His colors often remind the viewer of the muted and natural palette from Basilicata itself--wheat, the varied tones of greens from the mountains and valleys, and the more vibrant colors of sky and flora.
This research has been possible through the efforts of family and friends, who helped to identify and search out several paintings and gain permission of the owners to allow photographing them for posterity. Despite his works being dispersed in various places, a significant number still remain in San Costantino in private collections houses and in public spaces. Some his more complex works remind me of the work of Mexican muralist Diego Rivera while others have a mix of abstract and cubism in their compositions. After seeing his work, I'm convinced that his imagery would be well suited to ceramics and mosaic tiles. The town of San Constantino is blessed to have much of his work on public display, honoring their wonderful heritage.
MICHAELANGELUS BUONARROTI FLORENTINE MADE THIS
The Pieta (passion or pity) showing the Holy Mother Mary holding the lifeless body of her son Jesus, is the only sculpture that Michelangelo ever signed--on the sash across Mary's breast. When I first saw the Pieta at the 1963 Worlds Fair in New York, I noticed this signature and can remember thinking, "What a bold place to sign a piece of art"...
Michelangelo was only 24 when he sculpted this masterpiece. He was young and proud, perhaps even cocky about his skills. I can relate to this. I left school early, and at 17 got a job as a sculptor's apprentice in a metal sculpting studio that designed churches around the world. I was so cocky about my own skills, I couldn't live with making sculptures to the exacting standards of the blueprints made by our studio's Master Sculptor. I knew I couldn't last long there.
My mother always claimed I could draw before I talked, and as a child I dreamed of being a painter and sculptor. Michelangelo was certainly a child prodigy and also dreamed of being an artist. He stuck to his painting and sculpture and by age 21, he had moved to Rome and had already sculpted his first masterpiece, his Bacchus.
For me, a cocky artist who knew he didn't want to starve in some garret somewhere in Greenwich Village (there were no future Popes or Medici supporting my artistic future), I turned to a more technical and commercial form of art--photography. At 21 years of age, I had already advanced to be a top photographer in one of the largest commercial photography studios in the country. By 24 I had opened my own photo studio in my Manhattan loft.
At 24, Michelangelo had already created his Pieta. Cocky indeed--deservedly so, perhaps. Raw talent feeds this malevolent human trait, especially in youth. With more experience and gaining skills, I learned not to be so cocky (there is always something more to learn, even in later years), but Michelangelo's youthful cockiness and pride in his skills drove him to sign the Pieta in a bold manner...
You see, after creating the Pieta, the sculpture was on display in the Chapel of Santa Maria della Febbre where the Sacristy stands today. When visiting his Pieta one day, Michelangelo overheard a group of Lombards critiquing his masterpiece and was enraged when he heard them attribute the work to the "Gubbo di Milano" (Hunchback of Milan), referring to Cristofor Salari, a well known sculptor 15 years his senior. Some say that this attribution lasted for quite some time before Michelangelo reacted, but many historians claim that Michelangelo went to the Pieta the same night with torch and chisels and carved his name on Mary's sash.
It's curious that as he matured and gained self-confidence, Michelangelo never felt the need to sign any of his future works. I can identify with this also. It's often enough for the artist's soul just to create the work... to do his craft... to keep creating. The cockiness fades and is replaced with an internal self-confidence.
When one examines the details of the Pieta closely, perhaps there is a realization that the youthful cockiness and pride was well deserved. Go slowly as you look at each one of these photos. Consider that Michelangelo has performed some sort of magical alchemy, turning stone into flesh, with the still warm veins of Jesus still containing his blood...
Copyright 2019, Jerry Finzi/GrandVoyageItaly.com - All Rights Reserved
Not for reproduction without expressed permission.
“If Christ is God, He cannot sin, and if suffering was a sin in and by itself, He could not have suffered and died for us. However, since He took the most horrific death to redeem us, He showed us in fact that suffering and pain have great power.”
― E.A. Bucchianeri, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly,
In Puglia, Basilicata, Lazio, Umbria, Lombardy and other regions of Italy, many towns and villages celebrate la Festa di San Giuseppe (March 19th) in a unique way... by lighting Fuochi nella Notte, fires of the night--or bonfires. The bonfires and festivities are on various days (depending on the town), from March 17th through the 19th. Known by different names, the bonfire festival might also contain the words Torciata (torch), Fiaccolata (torchlight procession), Falò (fire).
For example, in Tuscany's Pitigliano, the event is called Torchiata di San Giuseppe with people dressed in medieval costumes and a procession of men and boys dressed in hooded monk's robes carrying flaming reed torches that will help build the bonfire. After the bonfire has burned down to ashes, tradition calls for people to collect and keep the ashes, ensuring their good luck in the coming spring.
As with other holidays beginning in the New Year and throughout lent, the lighting of bonfires has a long history going back to the time of pagan worship. Through the last 2000 years, the activity has morphed into a Christian tradition. This tradition also coincides with the need to burn the trimmings from vines, olive trees and other woody crops.
While Christians claim the fires are a representation of the good father, Saint Joseph, striving to keep the infant Jesus warm during winter nights, others say the tradition is from the ancient Romans celebrating the dark winter being overtaken by the light of spring. Many modern observers say it's just another way for fun-loving Italians to throw yet another party, for as with most festa and sagre, there is always the food, and a great sense of community.
And if the truth is to be told, Italians love bonfires so much, you will also come across other Fuochi on other saint day festivals across Italy.
Maria Giuseppa Robucci, better known as Nonna Peppa in Italy, is currently the oldest living person in Europe. Nonna Peppa has yet another birthday coming up... on March 20th she will turn 116!
This centenarian lives today in Apricena, Puglia with her daughter Filomena and her family. She was born in 1903 in nearby Poggio Imperiale where she married farmer Nicola Nargiso and bore five children, nine grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren. She managed a local bar along with her husband for many years, is very religious and claims to have known Saint Padre Pio personally. For the last few years she holds the title of honorary mayor of Poggio Imperiale, making her the oldest mayor in Italy.
Her secret to longevity? Nonna Peppa doesn't drink or smoke.
Today, March 8th, is International Women's Day and in Italy it's the time when mimosas are blossoming with their golden color. All across Italy women are presented lovingly with a bouquet of mimosa flowers to say "Thank you"... thank you for being Mama, that you for being my sister, thank you for being a great daughter, thank you for being a fantastic co-worker, or thank you for being a wonderful wife. March 8th is called La Festa delle Donne in Italy.
While in Italy the day has become almost like Mother's Day here in the States, the observance started in 1909 by the Socialist Party of America, and was held in New York City after a sweat shop factory burned to the ground, killing 145 workers--mostly young women who were underpaid and had to work in unsafe conditions. This event and the observance was the de facto birth of the modern Women's Movement. Sadly, in Italy and around the world, women are still struggling to achieve equal pay for equal work, among many other issues.
The tradition of a gift of mimosas dates back to 1946 when the feminists, Rita Montagnana and Teresa Mattei, came up with the idea of women offering the bouquets as a symbol of mutual respect, sisterhood and support. Mimosa was one of the few flowers in bloom on the date. The Mimosa also represents strength and endurance, being a tough plant that can survive adverse conditions in Italy.
Oddly, being originally a Socialist observance, it seems that in Italy, the Festa delle Donne has been commercialized... another day where bouquets of Mimosa tied with yellow ribbons are sold in supermarkets, bars and tobacconists all over Italy. It's become expected that fathers, sons and husbands also give the flowers to the women in their lives. The commercialization of La Festa delle Donne has made it more like Mothers Day and might be losing some of its original meaning based on solidarity of women's issues. Even chocolate companies offer their dolci in yellow packaging. In some parts of Italy the Festa is celebrated on the closest Sunday to March 8th, and special events are held, such as a procession of mimosa decorated gondolas in Venice and a regatta for female rowers. .
The commercialization of the Women's Movement in Italy
From Grand Voyage Italy to all Women... Auguri!
Support each other and keep up the fight for equality!