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Magazine

Gubbio’s Festa dei Ceri

Must-see popular festival

2 minutes

For almost a millennium the Gubbio’s Festival of the Candles has been celebrated every 15 May in honour of Sant’Ubaldo, the patron saint of the city in Umbria.
Documented from 1160, the year of the saint's death, but perhaps with even older origins, rooted in the cult of Ceres and propitiatory rites of spring.

1. What are the Ceri

The three Ceri are wooden artefacts 5 metres high, weighing almost 300 kilos, dedicated to saints linked to the city's guilds: Sant’Ubaldo patron saint of bricklayers, St George patron saint of tradesmen, St Anthony Abbot patron saint of farmers. The three saints’ statues stand atop each Cero carried on the shoulders of a team of ceraioli.

Kept in the Basilica of Sant'Ubaldo on Mount Ingino, the first Sunday in May they are transported to the city for a whole month of celebrations culminating on 15 May and continuing afterwards. On 17 May, the race of the Ceri Mezzani brought by teenagers, on 2 June that of the Ceri Piccoli brought by children. This is how future ceraioli are trained from an early age.

2. Who are the ceraioli

Any citizen or resident of Gubbio can be a ceraiolo. Belonging to one or another Cero does not depend on the neighbourhood: it used to be linked to one’s trade, but today it is handed down from father to son. Women do not carry the Candle, but they cheer.

The ceraioli are athletic, strong men, capable of running fast, carrying a heavy weight on their shoulders to cover the journey of just over 4 kilometres. They often take turns to complete the race without incident and are organised with a strict hierarchy to work well together.

 

3. The Raising in Piazza Grande

This is the most spectacular moment of the festival. Make sure you there to immerse yourself in the liveliest atmosphere of the festival: at noon on 15 May, amidst a festive crowd, the three Ceri are raised vertically. That is when the three laps around the square begin, in the midst of the crowd that opens up to let them pass. It is an exciting moment that anticipates the mad rush of the afternoon.

 

4. Running on top of the mountain

The Ceri start in precise order, with Sant’Ubaldo always in the lead. They never overtake each other during the race, also because it would be impossible in the narrow streets of the medieval town. It is won by making a clean run, holding the Cero as upright as possible, without dropping it or slamming it into walls. Should it fall, the “capocetta”, following the ceraioli, is expected to intervene. He makes his repairs so the race can resume.

After running through the streets of the city, the Ceri prepare for the last part of the uphill race, the toughest. Starting at Porta dell'Angelo, on the city walls, then through nine narrow streets and eight hairpin bends up to the church of Sant'Ubaldo.

Once the race is over, we descend back to the village, bringing back only the statues of the saints that are kept in the church of San Francesco della Pace, known as the Muratori. People continue to feast on baccalà alla ceraiola, cod prepared the night before under the arches of the Palazzo dei Consoli.