Holy Week at hallowed places

Pilgrims carry the cross on their journey
Palm Sunday procession in Italy Credit: naipung / Shutterstock.com
Palm Sunday procession in Italy
Credit: naipung / Shutterstock.com

Many beautiful places around the world celebrate Holy Week and Easter in a big way, attracting thousands of pilgrims each year

Holy Week or Passion Week was the most important period of time in the life of Jesus, and so too for his followers.

If you are a believer and you have not experienced Holy Week in these places, you should make the pilgrimage some time.

Taranto, Italy – Peak of Religious Passion

Packed with history, myth and religious passion, Taranto is a seaside city in Italy founded in the 7th Century BC by the Spartan Greeks. The more imaginative believe it was founded by Poseidon’s son, Taras, who arrived on the back of a dolphin.

Today, thousands journey for the processions of Holy Thursday and Good Friday. There are three successive processions.

During the early afternoon of Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday, pairs of brothers set out on a pilgrimage barefoot and at a slow pace, from the Church of the Carmine to the sepulchres in the main church of the city where the altars have been strewn with flowers and funerary ornaments in memory of the Holy Sepulchre of Jesus.

At midnight of the same day, from the church of San Domenico Maggiore, the Procession of Our Lady of Sorrows begins
to the sombre tunes of the troccola (a wooden instrument that sets the pace of the procession) and by the moving funeral marches. The statue of the ‘Addolorata’ is paraded all night long in a symbolic quest for her Son, together with the pairs of brothers bearing crowns of thorns.

Friday afternoon marks the beginning of the Procession of the Mysteries as groups of statues are carried on the participants’ shoulders throughout the night. This slow parade consists of the Gonfalone (black flag and symbol of the Carmine), the Cross of the Mysteries, the statue of Christ in the Garden, Christ at the Column, the Hecce Homo, the Fall, the Crucifix, the Holy Shroud, Dead Jesus and Addolorata.

Accompanied by funeral marches through the quarter, the procession returns to the Church of the Carmine only at dawn of the morning after when, in a moving and long-awaited ceremony, the troccola player approaches the main door of the church and knocks three times with the bordone (the staff that he carries in his left hand), finally entering the church amidst the applause of the people.

It is a stunning ancient festival that symbolises the beauty and emotion of Italy’s religious traditions.

Thousands visit the Holy Grotto in Lourdes Credit: Ander Dylan / Shutterstock.com
Thousands visit the Holy Grotto in Lourdes
Credit: Ander Dylan / Shutterstock.com

Santiago de Campostela, Spain – The Way of St James

Legend has it that the bones of St James (Santiago), one of the 12 Apostles of Jesus, were brought by boat to the region of Galicia in Spain, for burial. The remains were later rediscovered in the hills of Campostela around 813 AD, and endorsed by King Alfonso II.
A chapel was built on the site and St James became the patron saint of Spain, while Santiago de Campostela became a holy city for pilgrims wanting to earn “indulgences”, to lessen their time in purgatory. Towns, churches and albergues (hostels) sprung up along the route to feed and house the pilgrims.

In 1993, UNESCO declared Santiago de Campostela a World Heritage Site. There are some 1,800 heritage buildings along the route.
Today, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from around the world still make the journey to Santiago de Campostela and walk the various routes of the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St James).

Apart from making the pilgrimage, you can admire stunning Spanish landscapes including rugged hilltops, ancient buildings and towns, and beautiful countryside.

Pilgrims carry the cross on their journey
Pilgrims carry the cross on their journey

Lourdes, France – Divine Healing

Nestling in the mountainous Pyrenees region of France, Lourdes holds one of the most important shrines in the Catholic faith: the Grotto of Massabielle. Between Feb 11 and Jul 26, 1858, Bernadette Soubirous, a 14-year-old peasant girl, experienced 18 apparitions of the Virgin Mary near this grotto.

During the 9th vision, an underground spring with healing powers was revealed. The Holy See (of the Roman Catholic Church) recognises 67 miracles attributable to the water that flows from this miraculous spring.

Approximately 5 million pilgrims, of whom a great number are sick or handicapped, come to Lourdes each year. They come to drink the water from the spring in hope of a healing miracle. During Holy Week, it is especially significant as it is a place that connects people with God.

Whether or not you are a believer, these sites are rich in beauty, culture and tradition, and would be lovely to visit.