Discover Liguria’s Most Beautiful Easter Traditions

A journey to discover some of the Easter traditions of Liguria. Amid spectacular moments of devotion, ancient rites that have survived over time with unique emotions, colours, and flavours.

(The information is taken from “Il cerchio del tempo. Le tradizioni popolari dei liguri” by Paolo Giardelli. Published by Sagep editore).

The Palmureli: From Liguria to the Vatican

The Story of a Ligurian tradition that made its way to the Pope, repeated every year on Palm Sunday. The connection between palms and the Ligurian Riviera, ancient and deeply rooted, remains strong today, so much so that this plant distinctly characterizes the landscape of the Riviera between Sanremo and Ventimiglia. Known as the ‘City of Palms,’ Bordighera hosts the northernmost nursery of Phoenix dactylifera, the typical African palm tree that can reach heights of up to 20 meters, and has practically always been the production and trade center for palmureli, palm leaves dedicated to the celebration of Palm Sunday, to the extent of representing our region even at the Papal See. Tradition has it that the hermit Ampelio, originally from the Thebaid, introduced palms to Bordighera in 411 AD, but the plant probably arrived earlier with Phoenician merchants who often frequented the area in the 4th century BC.
Palm leaves are associated with the worship of Christ in the Holy Land and his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, marking the beginning of the Easter tradition with the Passion and Crucifixion. For this purpose, in the Riviera, palmureli are prepared, palm leaves whose pigmentation is stopped in March by closing and tying their corollas. These are then cut and arranged in particular weaves. The arrival of this particular Ligurian tradition in the Vatican is truly fascinating. In the 1500s, Pope Sixtus V, to restore Rome to its classical grandeur, decided to move the Egyptian obelisk located at one end of Nero’s Circus to St. Peter’s Square: the operation, entrusted to the architect Domenico Fontana, began in April 1586 but immediately encountered many difficulties due to the immense size of the object, which risked breaking the hemp ropes used. The Pope had also imposed complete silence during the operation, under penalty of death. However, during the most intense phases, to prevent the ropes from breaking, Captain Bresca, a sailor of Sanremo origin participating in the operations, seeing the ropes stretched to the breaking point, shouted ‘Aiga ae corde!’, ‘wet the ropes’, in the Sanremo dialect, the only remedy to prevent them from breaking. The operation succeeded, and the obelisk and those working on it were saved. Despite breaking the silence wanted by the Pope, Captain Bresca was saved and rewarded by Sixtus V, who granted him and his descendants the honor of sending him, every year, for Easter, the palmureli that his family traded.
A tradition that still survives today: in the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square, from Pope Francis’s balcony, the Ligurian palmureli wave on the Sunday before Easter.

Papa Francesco con i Palmureli
Pope Francis with the Palmureli @Servizio Fotografico – L’Osservatore Romano

Holy Week in Ceriana

Holy Week is a particularly important time throughout Liguria. However, there are places where the devotion of the inhabitants is such that the mysticism of gestures, sounds, and words is indescribable even using modern media: nothing replaces the direct experience, at the source, of the events. One of these places is certainly Ceriana.
Palm Sunday marks the beginning of the traditional rituals of Holy Week, an event that represents the highest and most engaging moment in terms of participation for the entire community of the village.
In the afternoon of Holy Thursday, the ancient narrow streets resonate with the dark sound of horns and tabulae. The horns are made from the bark of a chestnut tree, cut and rolled on the same day of the procession, following an art passed down from father to son, to create a long tube to blow into. When blown, it vibrates, creating a powerful roar that shakes the hearts. Tabulae are wooden boards struck with an iron rod to produce a deep sound.
On the same evening, the traditional Lord’s Supper is held, and the Confraternities sing the Miserere, Stabat Mater, and penitential Laudi in front of the Altar of Reposition. There are four Confraternities in Ceriana: Black (Mercy, St. Andrew), Green (St. Martha), Red (St. Catherine), and Blue (Visitation). During Good Friday, the confraternities march in procession along the village streets with torches and banners, performing ancient penitential chants, each with their own colour of robes and cloak. In the “Procession of the Little Angels,” children dressed as angels parade carrying symbols of Christ’s Passion: the rooster, the nails, the hammer, the crown of thorns. The choirs of Ceriana also perform their religious repertoire during the Vigil and the Solemn Easter Mass. The entire village rejoices in the celebration by joining in the singing, and outside the solemn moments, gastronomic delights like “frisciöi,” an ancient sustenance during Holy Week, are prepared in the square.

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Settimana Santa Ceriana
Holy Week

Laigueglia: “Dita du Signù Mortu”

On Good Friday in Laigueglia, it’s the moment of the procession of the “Signore Morto” (Dead Lord), an intensely felt event participated in by the entire village. Here, a tradition continues today that has very few equals in Italy: the “Dita” (meaning commitment), the auction to carry the mysteries of the procession. During the procession, the symbols, the “mysteries” of the passion are carried (by hand): each brotherhood (once there were 7) is proud to carry them in procession, and their members vie for the task with an auction, “a Dita,” where the symbols are assigned to the highest bidder. During the auction, bidding occurs for who will carry “U Signù Mortù” (the casket of the Dead Christ, the most coveted), “a Cruxe Grossa” (the Large Cross), “a Picenina” (the Small Cross), and the “Mistèi” (the Mysteries, 12 insignias with symbols of the Passion). Over time, the auction has developed its own protocol and language, which has remained unchanged over the years: the Prior, accompanied by the Treasurer and the Councilors of the Brotherhood, begins the auction by offering the Dead Lord first, following a dialectal text passed down for centuries from brother to brother in the Brotherhood: “U l’è stotu offertu… franchi pè purtò u Signù Mortu…“. The offers are then presented by a spokesperson who shuttles back and forth inside and outside the Oratory, communicating the amounts to the auctioneer, who then relays them to the faithful. Finally, three hammer strikes are given to assign each symbol of the Passion. The procession then begins, closed by the Sorrowful Madonna, accompanied by the singing of the Miserere.

This tradition dates back to ancient times: in the nursery rhyme in dialect, for example, unchanged for years, signs of the history of Laigueglia and Liguria can be traced: to appease the French during the Napoleonic domination that sought to erase religious manifestations, the amounts were stated in francs. Since then, the term has remained, first with lire and today with the euro, even though the exchange is one to one: 100 francs = 100 euros. Later, the procession starts from the oratory of Maddalena next to the beautiful church of San Matteo, which stands out in the panorama of Laigueglia. The atmosphere in the village is solemn: lanterns made of paper are hung on the balconies of the houses, and the alleyways leading to the central street are illuminated with lamps. The procession proceeds amid the chants of the Miserere in Latin, while in the church, paintings are veiled, and the bells are tied. Today, only one brotherhood remains, that of Santa Maria Maddalena, but the “Dita,” the auction, still takes place regularly because the competition to carry the symbols of the Passion in the procession has shifted among hoteliers, fishermen, and other categories of the town. The proceeds are then allocated to charity. (Thanks to Felice Schivo of the Brotherhood of Santa Maria Maddalena for the account).

Laigueglia: a Dita du Signù Mortu
Laigueglia: a Dita du Signù Mortu

The Good Friday Procession in Savona

A millennium-old event through which Savona celebrates Easter is the Good Friday Procession in Savona, which dates back to the Middle Ages and is celebrated every two years (in even-numbered years). The event dates back to the 1200s when the brotherhoods began to perform penitential processions with flagellations and popular representations that exceeded in spectacularisation and profane elements. From the seventeenth century, the Savona Procession has been enriched with wooden groups depicting scenes from the life of Christ, which have gradually been added over the years up to the last casket of Ecce Homo, from 1978, by Renata Cuneo: the Passion Cross opens the procession, supported by the rhythm of drums and followed by the other fifteen caskets carried on the shoulders of the confreres; the last one is the Holy Cross Ark, containing a significant fragment of the Cross of Christ, of profound religious value. The numerous stops along the route, announced by the strikes of the mallet on the beams supporting the caskets, serve to pace the slow progress and lighten the burden of the carriers. A unique opportunity, for tourists and the curious, to discover the sacred soul of a city waiting to be explored.

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Savona: Processione del venerdi santo
The Good Friday Procession in Savona

The Christ Among the Olive Trees in Zuccarelllo

In Zuccarello, on Good Friday, it is the setting for one of the most beautiful Easter traditions in Liguria. As evening falls, the streets of the ancient stone village come to life: votive sounds of horns and drums create the atmosphere, hooded men move through the village. They are members of the Brotherhood of San Carlo Borromeo who are responsible for preserving this tradition. Slowly, people gather in the churchyard until a silent procession sets off towards the olive grove. The lit torches illuminate the path while the catafalque, which will host the body of the Dead Christ, is carried by hooded men dressed in black. The procession exits the village walls and crosses the countryside, heading to the hills where the Crucified Christ can be glimpsed illuminated. On the hill, among the olive trees, three crosses have been placed: the middle one hosts the Christ, creating a powerful visual impact. The Dead Christ is a lime wood statue from 1460, with articulated arms to allow for the deposition. Restored in 2020, it is the object of veneration and absolute protection and, after the ceremony, it is kept in the church in the Chapel of the Marquises of Carretto.

As the torchlight procession approaches the crosses, the hooded brethren, with the help of some ladders, ascend to unfasten the Christ in order to tie him with some sheets and lay him on the litter, which will then be carried down to the valley. The faithful then return to the church where, during the reading of the Passion passages, they wait to kiss the Dead Christ. The queue is regulated by two hooded figures armed with sticks, who allow access to the body of Christ one person at a time. (We thank Pietro Zangani, Prior of the Confraternity of San Carlo Borromeo of Zuccarello, for the description).

Cristo tra gli ulivi a Zuccarello
The Christ Among the Olive Trees in Zuccarelllo

The Descent of Jesus from the Cross

The Descent of Jesus from the Cross in Molini di Triora is a deeply felt and engaging event. It takes place at the Church of Montà, where on Good Friday, the statue of Christ is lowered from the cross with a mystical and touching ritual: two brethren climb the ladder to the cross, wrap Christ with bandages, and show the nails to the faithful by the priest. Then, slowly and solemnly, they lower the statue of Jesus. All of this happens amidst the singing of the Parish Choir, in a moment of intense devotion. The ritual is celebrated similarly in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem by the Franciscan Friars and in other areas of the western Liguria. Children dressed as angels witness the deposition, while during the procession accompanying the faithful, the sounds of horns and the beats of “tabacche,” special boards, are heard. These boards are specially equipped to make noise and gather the population, as after the Gloria of Holy Thursday, the bells were to remain tied and silent.

Calata del Cristo Molini di Triora
The Descent of Jesus from the Cross in triora

The Tradition of Sepulchers in Liguria

An ancient tradition documented in Liguria since the 15th century is that of the Sepulchers, Sepurcri, or, according to the terminology used by the Church, the Altars of Repose, which recall the urn in which the Eucharist is preserved. This practice is renewed every year in Ligurian and Genoese churches in various variations but with some common factors: a refined methodology with the use of spring flowers and a mystical atmosphere that strikes visitors. The altar is decorated with fabrics, decorations in gilded wood, “Cartelami,” and adorned with flowers and candles that create an evocative atmosphere. The motifs are often themes and allegorical subjects rich in symbolism, taken from the Gospel or the Bible. Flowers are arranged in petals, as in Pieve Ligure, or with simple wood shavings and sawdust, as in San Quirico in Val Polcevera. In Triora and other areas, every year wheat is allowed to sprout in the dark in a bowl and then, bleached by the lack of light, it is placed in bowls near the sepulchers: it is called “gran pe-e cameete” (wheat for the altars) and is traditionally prepared by children.

The visit to the Sepulchers takes place from the evening of Holy Thursday until Good Friday, accompanied by the brotherhoods or in some cases, as in Genoa, with a procession that visits the main ones. Tradition dictates that they should always be visited in odd numbers: 1, 3, or 5. In Genoa, the tradition of the sepulchers is very ancient, with the earliest records dating back to the 1400s at San Lorenzo, Sant’Agostino, and Nunziata. In the western Liguria, children often set up small self-made altars, called “Sepurcreti,” in the doorways and entrances of the historic centre, made with flowers, photographs, and drawings, asking for offerings from passersby. Another important Easter tradition in Genoa and Liguria, also from the Baroque period, is the “Cartelami”: cardboard, wood, or other material cutouts, painted and used in the Easter Liturgy and Holy Sepulchers. These, rather than emphasising the triumph of the Eucharist, narrate an episode of the Passion, from the Prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane to the Flagellation to the Crucifixion. Many of these “cartelami” have been recovered throughout Liguria and restored for an exhibition held in 2013.

Sepolcreto a San Donato (Genova)
The Tradition of Sepulchers in San Donato (Genova)

Playing with the eggs

In some areas of Liguria, there is still a simple and enjoyable game practiced by children of all ages: a challenge involving the use of eggs, but not the traditional chocolate Easter eggs, rather, simple chicken eggs. The two challengers each hold a chicken egg and clash them together. The winner of the duel is the one whose egg does not crack, while the other, defeated, is “pocketed” by the opponent. These challenges usually take place on Easter Sunday, after the religious service, or on Easter Monday, in the centre of the village. This tradition goes by different names depending on the locality: in Badalucco, it is called “scotezzo,” while in Borghetto d’Arroscia it is known as “u scussettu,” but the rules remain essentially the same. On Easter Sunday, after mass, in the Duomo square, the people of Badalucco gather and purchase eggs, the proceeds of which are given to charity. Then the “scotezzo” begins: in pairs, challengers meet and try to win each other’s eggs. This game has ancient roots, from times of poverty when, after Lent, stocking up on eggs could ensure low-cost food for the whole family.

Lo scotezzo a Badalucco
Playing with eggs in Badalucco