It may be a bit more "mystical" across the Adriatic in Orthodox
Greece, and greeted with more widespread devotion over in Spain, but Easter
remains one of Sicily's most important religious holidays. Easter Monday
is a national Italian holiday when schools, banks, public offices and most
businesses are closed. This year (2015), Easter is celebrated "early" on April 5th.
In Sicily the holiday has a strong culinary facet. Church attendance
in Sicily is a fraction of what it was a few generations ago but people
still have to eat! For most people, that means seafood on Good Friday, sfincione on Holy Saturday and roast lamb and sausage
on Easter. Barbecues in the country are traditional on Pasquetta, Easter Monday.
For the children there are large chocolate easter eggs. A traditional
pastry is sugary almond marzipan – similar to "martorana fruit"
– shaped as the Paschal Lamb (shown here).
Sicily's Eastern Rite churches offer the curious a glimpse of the Byzantine
liturgy known to most Sicilian Christians until the arrival of the Normans
in the eleventh century. It was the Normans who steered the Sicilian church
toward Rome and away from Constantinople, in the process fostering development
of the Romance language which evolved into Modern Sicilian; they arrived
just a few years after the Great Schism of 1054.
What can you expect if you come to Sicily around Easter? Spring is always
a great time to visit. It isn't too hot, and as the "travel season"
is just beginning you'll encounter few crowds at historical sites. One of
the more interesting events is the Passion Play.
Strictly speaking, this is the enactment of what Catholics know as the
Stations of the Cross, but along village streets. It's similar to the Via
Dolorosa procession in Jerusalem. Here a little planning is in order, for
every town would have you believe that its own procession is the best in
Sicily. The processions in Monreale, Sciacca, Taormina and Enna are some
of the best known. But for pure drama and atmosphere there's one that stands
out from all the others.
Erice is a hilltop
town overlooking the coast near Trapani. Founded by Elymians
and settled by Phoenicians and Carthaginians -
whose Punic walls encircle part of the old town, Erice boasts a medieval
cathedral and several castles and towers. Most of its older buildings and
streets are constructed of the local grey stone. Some of the oldest streets
are closed to traffic. In April the town can be windy and even foggy.
Taormina and Cefalù are equally beautiful but more heavily populated
and certainly far more crowded during the warmer months. Erice is a rare
- and largely undiscovered - jewel. Its ambience is strikingly similar to
that of the town in Molise used in the filming of Mel Gibson's film The
Passion of the Christ.
While you're in Erice, stop by one of the delightful pastry shops for
a hearty espresso and a marzipan Paschal Lamb,
or sample the cannoli which are tastiest in
early Spring when the rich ricotta cream filling is made from sheep's milk during
the best grazing season. Segesta's ancient temple is nearby.
The procession begins around three in the afternoon on Good Friday (it's
best to confirm the schedule in advance), lasts about an hour, and from
year to year usually takes the same route to the cathedral. It's part of
a venerable tradition. Two thousand years is a long time even in Sicily.
About the Author: Travel agent Stefania Lanza lives in London, where she works for a
company specialised in independent travel and villa rentals in Sicily.