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.
In all probability the Holy Week processions in Mendrisio are older than their first mention at the beginning of the 17th century. The Thursday procession is a "sacred representation" with a popular character, in which about twenty groups or people do not recite a text as usual 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 of 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 Christ's burial, so it was originally run by clergymen. With the submission of neighbouring Lombardy to Spain in the 16th century, the tradition of calling it "Entierro" spread (from Spanish: burial). 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", widespread for at least a thousand years in the whole Mediterranean area, are more or less rich or complex installations of the catafalque for the dead Christ, assiduously visited by devotees.
In Mendrisio a theatrical set was set up in the church of Santa Maria rising in the village until before the restoration work was completed in 2014.
"Settenario" (evening service)
Much rarer and therefore now exceptional, but frequented by the people of Mendrisio, is instead the "Settenario" in the church of San Giovanni, formerly of the Servants of Mary. These evening services are each dedicated 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.
Statue of Our Lady of Sorrows
In the apse of the church of San Giovanni there is the statue of Our Lady of Sorrows. This is wrapped in festive clothes (from the beginning of the 19th century) and placed on a richly painted and gilded table on a 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. This is based on one of the few historical documents that is still preserved and which mentions the landfogto [landvogt], that is the Swiss governor of the Italophone provinces who was in charge 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.