Chieti – Good Friday Procession

Chieti Holy Friday Procession
Chieti Holy Friday Procession – Photo © Nellie Windmill

Chieti lies on a crest along the Pescara river with its unmistakable profile with the high belltower of San Giustino against the sky, a few km away from the Adriatic Sea, and with the Majella and Gran Sasso in the background.

It was a Roman town, Teate, and important medieval center, that’s why walking through the city you see Roman and medieval ruins side by side.

Chieti Holy Friday Procession
Chieti Holy Friday Procession – Photo © Renata Virzintaite

Of particular importance is also the Pinacoteca C. Barbella, hosting works of Abruzzese artists, as well as the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, the most vibrant archeological museum in the region, with, among others, unique works as the Capestrano Warrior, a statue of the 7th century BC, one of the symbols of the area, a wonderful Hercules statue and one of the very few Galba gold coins in the world.

Chieti history

The origins of Chieti are lost in the midst of time, and many like the legend that it was founded by Achilles and named after his mother Thetis.

The ancient name of Teate, may derive from ti(f)a (=tiati=teba, meaning “forested hill”) and existed already in 1000 BC, when the town was the capital of the Marrucini people, who in the following centuries allied with the Romans against Pyrrhus and Hannibal, then joined the rebellion of the Samnites against Rome.

Under the Roman empire, it was a municipium, and there are many monuments and buildings of that period. The town declined in importance with the fall of the roman empire. It was destroyed in 801 AD by the Franks. It was included, then, in the Duchy of Spoleto and was occupied in turn by the Angevins, Aragonese, and Austrians.

The Angevin domination marked a period of revival and in the late 12th century Teate was made capital of Abruzzo Citra, the area south of the Pescara river.

At that time Chieti also had the privilege of its own mint, and there was a powerful archbishop.

Chieti Holy Friday Procession
Chieti Holy Friday Procession – Photo © Renata Virzintaite

Chieti: Good Friday Procession

Every year on Good Friday, which is the Friday before Easter, a procession is held through the torch-lined streets of the old town.

The participants wear masks and are dressed in the colors of their parish.

Only men and children may take part.

Chieti Holy Friday Procession
Chieti Holy Friday Procession – Photo ©

The procession also shows the symbols of the various stations of the cross (lance, rooster, cross, etc.) and is accompanied by a fantastic choir. It is the most critical procession of its kind in the Abruzzo region.

By tradition, it’s a member of the “Oration and solemn procession. It is also organized a procession for the bearing of the dead Christ through the streets.

The historical procession organized by the arch-confraternity of Sacro Monte dei Morti has as its highlight the haunting music of the Miserere by Selecchy, performed by over 150 violin players.

Abruzzo’s old villages

Pizzoferrato – Photo ©

Almost all the mountain centers of Abruzzo, sitting tight and protected on the peaks, were wise in their geographical setting and their own morphology for two reasons: the extreme danger of the Middle Ages, a period in which the majority of these villages arose, and the business (but it could be said mono-culture) of sheep farming, that was dominant in the mountains.

Built entirely out of living stone and mud, with a total, phobic absence of wood, all the old villages of the Abruzzo mountains express the obsessive attachment to stone, which is typical of the Mediterranean civilization.

Scanno – Photo ©

These houses of bare stone, built close one to another, to form a compact, protective mass in guise of a wall, are called “case-mura”, wall-houses, and are communicating their never-ending, tormented need of defense in a world of extended, feudal chaos, of the critical evasion of the central powers and therefore, the lack of organized systems of defense. The outside perimeter of the houses enclosed the village in a civilian but effective, defensive circle.

On the outside, there are few windows, almost as narrow as slits, placed on the upper floors. A direct consequence of the dangerous times, the so-called “defense barriers” represented the only solid system of self-defense for the local population. Real, fortified villages more than just castles, these allowed a prolonged, defensive retreat for the people, if necessary.

For a very long space of time, going from the XI century to the French revolution, this type of urban plan formed a typical model of a civilized settlement in the Abruzzo mountains.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to understand the sense of these human settlements, often pushed to the limits of habitability without putting them back in their place in that system of economic production that organizes, in its entirety, all life in the mountains: sheep farming.

In actual fact, as an economic activity predominant in Abruzzo for almost three millenniums, therefore the origin of a particular condition of life, sheep farming has made an impression on the territory not just limited to prints left in the pastures and sheep tracks.

Anversa degli Abruzzi
Anversa degli Abruzzi – Photo ©

The great majority of the sheep, the huge flocks that periodically moved from the upper pastures in the mountains to the coastal plains of the Peninsula, are completely unconnected with the inhabited center: the transhumant sheep always live out in the open. They represented, however, a sort of additional capital that never became directly part of the life or urban plan of the mountain villages.

The actual style of every single house reflects this economy tied to a type of breeding which is based on large herds of small animals. The impossibility of moving this patrimony to the center of the village, the need of defense which tended to limit the extension of the center to be protected, and the steepness of the slopes, made a particular housing structure necessary in the shape of buildings with three, four, or even five or six rooms, one on top of the other.

Abruzzo Sheep farming

Sheep – Photo ©

The mountains and valleys of Abruzzo, its vast and barren plateaus, and the stony slopes of its massifs have made it, since the very earliest times, an ideal environment for shepherds and their flocks.

Already, during the Bronze Age, between the 16th and l2th centuries B.G., 5heep~farming was common among the peoples who had settled in the Abruzzo area. There was a specific regression at the beginning of the first millennium B.C. with the rise of Picenian agriculture (at which time the extraordinary Guerriero di Capestrano – Warrior of Capestrano – was produced). It led to the Apennine shepherd settlements being restricted to the more mountainous areas further inland. From the 7th century B.C. onwards, under the influence of the Sabellian people, sheep-farming was given a new impetus.

The Sabellian races, divided into numerous different genti (peoples), generally called Italic, sheep-farmed in territories limited to the areas in which they settled, only moving between the mountains above and the plains directly below. Under the Roman influence, the land had been divided up, and the conflicts put down between the Sabellian tribes and the Daunians (farmers of the lowlands of Puglia), Abruzzo sheep-farming was able to extend towards the plains of Puglia. The latter was ideal for an entrepreneurial type of 5heep~farming, and this was backed by large amounts of capital from noble families in Rome.

It was, however, in the first half of the 15th-century that sheep-farming in Abruzzo developed most. It is estimated that, in that period, about 30,000 shepherds took no fewer than 3,000,000 head of sheep to winter in Puglia.

As there were about 300,000 people in Abruzzo at that time, that was an average of about ten sheep per inhabitant. If pastoral activity in the literal sense is then added to those industries, which were a direct consequence of it, one can quite easily affirm that at least half the population of Abruzzo was directly dependent on sheep-farming.

Today in Abruzzo there are no more than 450,000 sheep; one for every three inhabitants.

The extraordinary development of sheep-farming in Abruzzo was determined by exploiting to the full the benefits of the mountainous pastures in Abruzzo -impracticable in winter but flourishing in summer – and the grassy plains of the lowlands of Puglia.

Majella – Photo ©

Instrumental in using this to the full was transumanza (transhumance), a seasonal movement of men and flocks between these two geographical areas of pasture, covering hundreds of kilometers on foot at the end of Spring and beginning of Autumn. The route of those moving to other fields followed a regular network of full grassy paths: the tratturi (sheep-tracks). These winded down from the furthest parts inland of Abruzzo, more specifically the valley of L’Aquila, from Celano in Marsica and from Pescasseroli at the top of the Sangro valley to the lowlands of Puglia around Foggia and Candela.

The “tratturi” followed routes used for centuries, but it was during Roman times, when sheep-farming took on this transhumant characteristic, that exceptional development began. Even then, the paths followed during the transhumance were defined and protected by laws that became, even more, stricter during the Aragonese domination.

Sheep – Photo ©

Along the way, there were many stops for the shepherds, for their well-being and that of their animals during transhumance. Different forms of providing food and rest were found over the centuries. The chiese tratturali (churches) were characteristic and ubiquitous “structures for service.” They could offer not only spiritual assistance and comfort but water for the men and flocks, a safe resting-place for the animals, and a roof for the shepherds for the night. They were located at regular intervals along the route, allowing enough time between one right-stop and the next.

Once the mountain pastures had been reached, a relatively less precarious stopping-place for the men and animals took the form of the pajare, little groups of loose stone huts that were built by the shepherds themselves.

Borrowed directly from the trullo in Puglia, the pajare began Spreading in Abruzzo no more than 300 years or so ago and were a consequence of the very dose contacts that the pastoral way of life had with the Puglia area. It means that, after Puglia, Abruzzo is the region with the highest number of “Trulli.”

The pajare (especially present on the Majella where there are about a thousand) is often found in small dose groups circled pens, which are also built of loose stones. The high walls give these extraordinary buildings an ancient and archaic fort-like appearance. Similar structures can be found on the Gran Sasso. Here they date back to the Middle Ages and are called “condole,” probably deriving from the techniques used in Benedictine-Cistercian buildings.