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The Holy Week

Amongst the many religious festivities in Alimena, of particular interest is The Holy Week fort the deep emotions that it creates. It is a tradition that rediscovers the cultural identity of the local people. Celebrations start and the Sunday before Easter when the confraternities Rosario and San Giuseppe display their representative Icons. On Monday is the Maestranza’s turn: the group parade for the main streets accompanied by the banda musicale. On Tuesdey the Confraternita Cocifisso parades and on Wednesday the members of Compagnia dell’ Ecce Homo preceded by the tambourine go around the village with candles in their hands, all but one of the members who holds a wooden Cross. Thursday is entirely dedicated to the oldest Confraternity of the village the Santissimo Sacramento. This is a day of intense spirituality, several processions of“fedeli” flow the streets from the early hours of the morning until late in the evening. At midday at the sound of the “truccula” (a wooden panel) all the “confraternite” gather nearby the main Church (Chiesa Madre). From here, the Procession goes towards the Chiesa del Calvario in a customary order and from there another Procession starts, that of Jesus Christ inside a sarcophagus carried by giovani portatori (young porters). The Procession terminates at the Chiesa Madre. The Holy Week ends with the celebration of the Holy Mass that starts at Midnight of the Saturday at the Chiesa Madre and that symbolize, the exceptional event of the Resuscitation of Jesus Christ.

Religious Groups Torna su

There are six Confraternities in Alimena. They are chronologically classified as such: Confraternita SS. Sacramento, Ecce Homo, Crocifisso, Rosario, San Giuseppe. These are believed to have been funded together with the village at around 1600. The great majority of the Confrati (members of the confraternities) advocate that, according to the record, the confraternities were born out of devotion. However, one “confrate” of the Ecce Homo suggests that they were funded for reasons also related to exceptional privileges. In fact, the right to have a funeral ceremony and a grave is valued as a secondary element in comparison with the main one of devotion. As far as the Maestranza is concerned, some “confrati” maintain that exclusively artisans originally made it.Recently however, builders, carpenters, blacksmiths, shoemakers have signed up together with businesspersons, and others. The other confraternities blame the strong migration flow and have very few members of which a tiny number live in Alimena.
The same members as in the past form the other confraternities, Crocifisso, Rosario, San Giuseppe: farmers and artisans. From eh interviews with the “confrati”, emerges that subscriptions, duties, privileges and responsibilities were regulated by customary norms. Although there are talks of an internal set of rules, only few coherently remember the procedures.The interview led us to believe that the Ecce Homo is structured according to a hierarchy of duties hence a Supervisor, a Deputy Supervisor, a Secretary, and Cashier together with an Amministration are in place. Many of the informers do not mention the Church as the main body governing the Confraternities at the contrary they proudly remark their autonomy and independence. The informers also declare that membership is open to all. All the applications must be formal and if accepted, the new member must pay 10.000 Lira and 1.000 thereafter for the annual renewal.The only other obligation, no longer in place, was to accompany the dead to the cemetery unless they were ill. The right of burial is the only thing to be unchanged. The grave and the Oratorio constituted the main material benefits. However, according to the old confrati, the religious festivities and above all the “Quaresima” period represented the most important moments of rest and community life. Even though “it was very long”, the Quaresima would offer occasions and reasons to be together and sing, eat and drink. Not all the “compagnie” had their Oratorio (head quarter). The Maestranza for example used to gather in the Sacristy of the Chiesa del Carmelo, so did the SS. Sacramento, following the unjust expropriation of their Oratorio by a local proprietor. The Compagnie that still have their own head quarter rarely open it, only Easter Sunday and the two Sundays following Easter in order to renew the subscriptions. The local Bar is now the most commonly used public area for the confrati to spend time playing cards. In the old days every Confraternita, had their own Church were the confrati would go to take part to the religious functions. In two legal documents, it is stated that “ the confrate will have to be honest, liked amongst the public, and those who are known to be thieves, blasphemer, of bad conduct, gamblers, unfaithful, or that have been expelled from other Confraternite will be excluded”. At the base of this statement, lays the necessity of portraying a net distinction between good and evil society. The interesting article, advocates in other words the image of Confraternite as a sect of Elected who position themselves as an example for the community at which margins are those who misbehave. Within this awkward willingness of separating the goods and the not so good, the Confraternities concealed perhaps its most dangerous function of social control of the community. Directly dependant on the Bishop and his representatives, the Confraternities had to comply with religious obligations, any misconduct would result in the dismissal of the Confrate in question or in some less serious cases the payment of a penalty. It was therefore compulsory the participation to religious celebrations. Since many years however, the relationship between Confraternities and the Church have eased and such obligations no longer exist. Unfortunately the Confraternities seem to be destined to disappear, along with the last elderly members, who bear the knowledge and the ideals of the religiousness which has given shape to a different and in some cases opposite vision of the world’s official conception of it.

The ChoirTorna su

Directly connected to the steady disappearance of the social universe of the Confraternities, the gradual impoverishment of their cultural tissue is remarkably highlighted by the declining use of the Choir and the Laments. In Alimena, every Confraternita, apart from the Maestranza used to have a Choir. Since many years, due to the high emigration rate and the abandon of the once fundamental transmission process (from the elderly to the youngsters) the number of Choirs has been significantly reduced. Of the five original Choirs, only two are still in place of which just one is still organically structured. The Ecce Homo Choir, formed, even though not internally, by the last elderly “cantatori” of the Confraternita. Given that the youngsters no longer learn the Chants, those essential elements of passion for the Chants, the main criteria at the base of the Choir has lost its vigour.It has in other words decayed the obligation of belo0pnging to a Confraternita in order to be part of the Choir, and everyone who knows the Chants is welcomed into the Confraternita. It is for this reasons that the Ecce Homo invites two “foreigners”: an old businessperson, and a driver from the S. Giuseppe Confraternita to complete the “core” elements of their Choir. Putting together a good team of people able to sing is as important as the aggregation of confrati from other Confraternities whose role is of second choir. Such method may at times be felt in the quality of the chants. Those interviewed declare that the “voices” are not suitable and that often these members do not know the right words. Thus, the choir loses its characteristic homogeneity along with its beauty, so nostalgically recalled by the interviewed. Even in the past, when many people were available, it was never larger than ten members, distributed as follows: the main voice, the second voice constituted by three to four members and the bass formed by three voices. Salvatore Pantano ex farmer of 72 still sings as a main voice in the Ecce Home Choir. He highlights the interesting interdependence that merges the voices: form the main voice who new all the words, its assistant together with the second voices and the bass helped synchronising the melody in a precise rhythm within a matter of few seconds. For this reason, all the singers gather in a semi-circle that surrounds the main voice and the second right next to him, the other voices thanks to this position meet at the centre. The actual EcceHomo choir is less rich in participants than it used to be and there are not more than 7 elements divided in first voice, second voice, and the choir. Another important element that is missing today is the “squiglia” consisting of a group of kids whom, eager to learn f0llowed the choir and would start singing at the end of each song. Pantano regretfully recalls the joy that such final touch was to the ears of the listeners. These kids, according to our informer were devoted to learning the techniques and made of the “lamenti” their passionate hobby. Many kids wanted to impress the elderly in order to acquire status amongst their friends and families, says Pantano who was an apprentice since the early age of 12. Training was long and difficult, the minimum age to enter the choir was 30, and some people were not accepted until an even older age. In some cases, the sudden disappearance of a main voice would introduce a youngster in to the choir and like in the case of our informer Pantano his debut was at the age of 17. He still recalls the overwhelming feeling of having to sing openly in front of every one, after Michele Lupo had died. It was hard for a young singer to be accepted and respected by older member in fact, feeling of envy and antagonistic behaviours were common amongst the choirs, especially amongst the elderly members. However, such behaviour did not prevent recognising a true talent, and a good singer was at long appreciated regardless of his age.I t was in fact the pride for a well executed song in front of the eyes of the villagers the main aim of the “confraternita”.As another informer suggests, it was very important during the early decades of the century that a confraternita performed well and from this depended the public opinion. Such reactions instigated a real battle for being the best and betrayal by a member of a choir (singing for the competition) would result in expulsion and shame. This was not tolerated although no written rules ever forbidden it.Even nowadays, rows of this kind are common and singers switch Confraternita based on envy and wrongdoing. Pantano still recalls all the chants by heart and although his age, he still leads a choir. According to him, a good execution depends on the ability of leading the choir. Not too many people can be allowed to sing at the same time because it is very difficult for the main voice to spot the out of tune voices. During the performance, it is the duty of the main voice to prevent the out of tune voice from accompanying the choir by touching his arm. Such gesture was always respected although would often foment feelings of envy and shame. Since several years, the Confraternities no longer try their chants in anticipation of the Holy Week. During those years, the preparation started 40 days before Easter and there were training sessions every Sunday. Every choir used to meet in their headquarters and it was always a good occasion for eating “salted sardines” and drink wine. Sadly, meetings of this nature are hard to organise and those who take part do not show the same enthusiasm as before.
The PassionTorna su

Every 5 years on the day of the holy Thursday used to take place the Passion of the Christ the so-called “Casazza”. The sacred representation was meticulously preceded by severaldays of rehearsal by improvised local actors whom, because of the repeated performances were nicknamed after their characters: «U Signuruzzu», «A Madonna», «S. Pietru», «A Maddalena», «Giuda» and so on. Costumes used to be hired in Palermo although in earlier times they were made at home. A parade from the Convento all along the Via Vittorio Emanuele reached the stage at the crossroad with via Roma, and used to open the dramatic representation. The most touching scenes were those of the Gethsemane and of the crucifixion but the apex of the drama was reached when Judah the traitor was embraced and burned among the flames of Hell, a pit hole carefully built in the stage’s structure. Such was the popularity of the event that many citizens would sit by the main road since the early hours to make sure they had a good spot to watch the act, the balconies were overcrowded with anxious spectators who did not mind about he bitterly cold weather that is quite common during the holy week. Sometimes the “Casazza” took place at the Largo Convento and the last one took place in the main Piazza in the early 1950s.The tradition is fairly popular in Germany where the best known representation is the Oberammergau one, a small city in Bavaria where the event is awaited all year round by the inhabitants and attended by many spectators from everywhere. Unfortunately, nowadays in Alimena victim of an intense depopulation, this theatrical and sacred appointment does not evoke the enthusiasm of the youngsters and its survival is attached only to a pail memory of the old days. Sadly, all the complex celebrations of the holy week and the period that precedes it have been mutilated and belittled. The few rituals still alive, although celebrated with devotion and passion, no longer represent the main event of the year.

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