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Chasing Ancient Sicily Family Roots: Good Friday in Enna

Paul Marotta | Enna, Italy

More than 3500 members of 16 religious confraternities participate in the lengthy Good Friday celebrations in Enna Sicily.

I'm traveling to ancient Sicily for three weeks in April in search of both its and my own cultural heritage. Sicily is an ancient island with varied and deep roots. I'm traveling alone for a week, then with my wife's family for 10 days, and then my brother joins me for several days and we head into the deep heart of the island from where my grandparents emigrated to the US amidst deep social turmoil and upheaval in the 1920s - Pietraperzia. The first stop is Enna for Good Friday where I was given rare access to a religious brotherhood founded in 1261 as they prepared for the religious procession.

At first glance any American would recoil at the image of what appears to be masses of people processing  in the night, adorned with pointed white  hoods and cloths covering their faces with cut-out eyeholes. Any reminiscences of the Klan and the horror they inflicted on black Americans is fraught with terror and evil-meaning intent. Scholars believe that in the years immediately following the Civil War as many as 10,000 blacks were lynched and in the intervening years untold others were terrorized and murdered. It is also thought that the Paris trained costume designer for D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation, Clare West, may have been influenced by the ancient traditions of Europe's Holy Week, and the Spanish-based tradition dating from the 15th century of donning robes and hoods during the Easter week processions.

In Enna, this tradition continues today as the religious confraternities turn out for a day long solemn procession throughout the city. In fact the millennia has seen countless periods of domination by one country or another of Sicily. Today, in utter humility and deeply felt religious belief, this tradition continues as 3500 extremely pious members of the city's various churches don elaborate robes, hoods and gloves, adorned with some of the elaborate beautifully crocheted lace Sicily is known for around the world, which denote their particular confraternity.

I was given access inside the church founded in 1261 to their preparations to carry the 4000lb statue of Jesus to the Duomo.

Paul Marotta



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