There was a huge festival in Viterbo, Italy, last night (Sept 3) … La Macchina di Santa Rosa (literally translated: Saint Rosa’s machine). Mere words will not do it justice. You may be wondering how a patron saint can have a “machine” and — “What in the world is it?”
The “machine” is an over 5-story-tall tower, really more of a sculpture, ablaze with live flame and electric lights. It is a structure that is carried on the backs of i Facchini — a fraternal organization dedicated to Santa Rosa.
Here is how it works: The 100+ Facchini position themselves in rows under La Macchina and, from a command given by il cappo — the boss, these men lift the machine up in the air, off of the metal sawhorses that support it. They then carry this 5-ton tower through the narrow medieval streets of the historic city center from one piazza to the next.
As La Macchina makes its way along the course, all the city lights are turned off, allowing the glowing sculpture to become a beacon of holy light. The tower is so wide and the streets so narrow, that awnings are pulled tight to the buildings and it is illegal to reach out from a building’s window to touch the tower as it passes by — and you could, it is that CLOSE to the buildings.
There is much fanfare and beating of drums as La Macchina swiftly glides along the street atop the backs of its bearers. When it arrives in the next piazza, the men spin the tower three times before setting it down on another set of sawhorses. There is an explosion of excitement from the crowd as the tower comes to rest. Here i facchini take a moment to rest. In some piazzas they are given panini to snack on, at others … vino (wine)!
After a 10 minute break, il cappo assembles the men back under the tower, where there is a count off with drums and, in a thrust straight upward, which seems to be energized even more when the crowd erupts into a deafening cheer, the tower once again comes to life and moves down the next street toward the next awaiting piazza packed with spectators.
La Macchina di Santa Rosa repeats this “street, piazza, setting down, lifting up, explosive cheering and life again” cycle four more times before finally coming to rest in the tiny piazza in front of Santa Rosa’s church. (The last street leading to this final piazza is so steep that a rope is place on the top of the tower, which helps to keep it from tipping over as i Facchini run UP the street with this 5-ton sculpture on their backs. STUPEFACENTE! — AMAZING!)
It is in this final piazza where spectators get to check out La Macchina up close and personal. Every 5 years the design changes, and this particular one (2006) had moving parts on it — the frames around the angels actually opened out like the pedals on a flower, every time the tower came to rest in a piazza. No wonder the crowd when crazy, besides carrying live flame and the power supply for all of the lights, they were also carrying hydraulics. Mamma mia!!!
The detail on the sculpture is incredible and it is something that I could stand and stare at for hours…days, if given the chance. It is impossible to wrap your head around the idea that men carry this on their backs through the narrow, uneven cobblestone streets, spinning it, placing it down, picking it back up, and even carrying it up an incredible steep hill.
So who is this patron saint? A simple peasant girl that held her ground, suffered for her beliefs and died a martyr. And why go through all of this celebration and pageantry when she isn’t even around any more?
Actually, she is still around! Preserved in a glass tomb inside her church, there for everyone to see. She doesn’t look bad for being about 700 years old, huh?!
Welcome to the new site…where there are many things to celebrate, both old (no offense Santa Rosa) and new (the launch of my new book about my time in the very magical city of Viterbo – my Italian hometown!
Ciao e a presto~ Mark