Processions of the Holy Week of Mendrisio
Ancient and living traditions, for over 400 years
The Processions are held in Mendrisio on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday every year. An unmissable and unique event, where history becomes a spectacle in the perpetuation of tradition. As they make their way through the streets of the town, a soft light is given off by the “Trasparenti”, translucent paintings on canvas mounted on “boxes” and lit up from within. Crafted using a special technique dating back to the eighteenth century, the “Trasparenti” are a characteristic feature of the Processions and a fundamental element of the candidacy. The Maundy Thursday Procession represents the Passion and the Stations of the Cross, featuring around 270 participants. The Good Friday Procession is more austere and solemn, with over 700 participants. Intangible cultural heritage since 2019. Intangible Cultural Heritage since 2019.
Almost certainly also the Processions of Holy Week in Mendrisio, like all the others, are older than their first mention at the beginning of the 17th century. The Thursday one is a "sacred representation" with a popular nature, in which about 20 groups or characters do not recite a text, but parade along the streets of the village simulating the route to Calvary. The only ones to express themselves are the Jews, who shout invective and the death sentence of Christ, so the procession is known as the"Funziun di Giüdee". For at least three centuries it was organised by the confraternity of the Sacrament.
The solemn Friday procession is an extension of the rite of the burial of Christ and was therefore originally run by ecclesiastics. With the submission of neighbouring Lombardy to Spain in the 16th century the tradition of calling it Entierro spread. It represents the nocturnal funeral of Christ, usually accompanied by the Sorrowful Mother.
In addition to the two evening events in Mendrisio, other traditions of Holy Week have been preserved. The "Sepulchres", which have been widespread for at least a thousand years throughout the Mediterranean area, are more or less rich or complex installations of the catafalque for the Dead Christ, assiduously visited by devotees. In Mendrisio until before the restoration work was completed in 2014, a theatrical set was set up in the church of Santa Maria rising in the village. Much rarer and therefore now exceptional, but frequented by the people of Mendrisio, is the "Settenario" in the church of San Giovanni, formerly of the Servants of Mary, that is the evening services dedicated each to one of the Seven Sorrows of Mary, with special prayers and the singing of the "Stabat Mater" (attributed to Jacopone da Todi) in the form of an antiphon. On a music of unknown origin the men take turns intoning a verse in the church choir and the women answer from the nave with the next one; it is very popular with the people of Mendrisio. Unfortunately, the large and suggestive temporary altar in the Church of San Giovanni (painted by Bagutti around 1775), where the statue of Our Lady of Sorrows used to be, is no longer set up; now it is extracted from the niche in the apse, dressed in the festive dress (early nineteenth century, restored) and placed on a table decorated with paintings with its rich golden stretcher (around 1780) until just before the procession..
In the last decade of the nineteenth century, the socio-economic circumstances of the Canton finally allowed a considerable investment in the restoration and renewal of the processions. On that occasion the newborn committee, which still manages the entire organisation, decided to set the year 1898 as the first centenary of the reorganization because one of the few historical documents that is still preserved and which mentions the "landfogto" [landvogt], that is the Swiss governor of the Italian-speaking provinces present at the head of the district from the 16th century until 1798.
Did you know?
• The role of the three Madonnas in the Holy Thursday Procession was once entrusted to men parading with their faces completely covered.
• The children and adults parading, as well as all those involved in the organisation, are volunteers and their number is close to one thousand.