In Comeana the Holy Thursday evening begins with a trial, the one that in the Sanhedrin, two thousand years ago, in Palestine saw Jesus Christ as protagonist and ended with the crucifixion. This to commemorate the events that, according to Christian tradition, happened on Mount Golgotha. In the middle there are six kilometres of road, a three-hour procession, other acted scenes in the central Piazza Battisti, dozens of horses and hundreds and hundreds of people. With Jesus on this way are Pilate, Caiaphas, Judas, Longinus and Cruciferous and then a whirl of colours, from red to blue, from yellow to white and light blue, Palestinian and patrician women: an attempt to commemorate historical facts, but also a phenomenon still today permeated by undeniable and deeply religious, wisely organised by a committee of citizens of Comeana.
The roots of the revival that once every three years animates the streets of Comeana are ancient : among the largest in Tuscany in numbers, even if not the most popular. Best known is the one of Grassina in the province of Florence.

There are many amusing facts, starting with the day on which it takes place. The procession here is in fact on Holy Thursday, as always, and not on Good Friday. The reason? The choirs that animated the procession were required in other villages. Often they went out to sing, the story goes, in other Via Crucis. They did it to raise money for their church and in Comeana they decided to bring the commemoration forward,   thus providing a double service to the Confraternity.

Mediaeval origins
It is not known with certainty when the procession of Comeana began, but its origins were inspired by the Confraternita del Santissimo Sacramento which was founded in 1599. Hence a history and a tradition of many centuries. The spiritual core of the event was the presence of a male choir, singing the “Miserere” which would alternate with a women’s choir that sang the “Stabat Mater”. The religious part was predominant and it is likely that in the eighteenth century the procession received a boost thanks to the preaching in the convento del Palco in Prato, of Brother Leonardo da Porto Maurizio, a Franciscan saint who died in 1751. The Jansenist Bishop Scipione de Ricci, bishop of Pistoia and Prato from 1780 until 1790, suppressed the Confraternity, then it was reconstituted by Bishop Falchi Picchinesi who succeeded him. The Via Crucis, did not disappear, but assumed even more solemn forms.
The procession commemorates the sacred and liturgical dramas that were represented in the Middle Ages in the churchyards to tell the people about the life of Christ: images are better than a thousand words.

Around the year one thousand clowns, jugglers and fire-eaters performed in the squares of villages across Europe. Inside and around the church, in the salient moments of the liturgical year, dialogue parts of the Mass were staged, dramatizations of episodes of the Gospel or the lives of saints, shows which were simple and integrated into the rite, at the beginning then gradually more and more complicated and autonomous. In France they call them   “Mysteres” or “passions”, in Spain ” autos sacramentales”, in Germany “geistpiele”, in England “miracle plays”, in Italy “drammi liturgici”. And the historical-religious commemoration of Comeana just like many recited via crucis, is a bit of a continuation of those held in other European countries.

From procession to historical commemoration
It was said that the religious part was predominant. In the years after the war, and especially from 1982 when the commemoration restarted, after some years of abandonment, the procession was enriched with new characters, that today have made the historical part prevail. The large number of participants, never less than five hundred, itself makes the parade and the acted scenes of the Passion of Christ evocative. The trial, the falls and finally the crucifixion never fail to emotionally engage the spectators. Some atmosphere actors who play characteristic roles during the parade saying catch phrases have become famous. One above all is dear to Comeanesi and it’s spoken by Caiaphas, the high priest who addresses the Sanhedrin saying: “Did you find him?(Referring to Jesus) and the Sanhedrin reply in unison, “No, we’ll find him.” A phrase remained in the memory and handed down orally from generation to generation, becoming part of the history of the procession.
(Text by Walter Fortini and Niccolò Fanfani, taken from the booklet produced for the 2006 edition of the festival)
Photos: Salvatore Berna Nasca

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