Intense religious events are very much a part of life in Piceno, with sacred representations and initiatives that involve the local population.
As well as historical re-enactments during religious festivities in honour of the local patron saint and the countless festivals and fetes that recall saints who are particularly dear to the population (the many rural festivals dedicated to Saint Anthony Abbot in the winter are just one example), there are also great celebrations for the two most important occasions in popular religious life: Christmas and Easter.
On the day of the Pasquella in January, St Anthony Abbot is celebrated in Acquaviva Picena by the Cantori di Sant’Antonio, who put on a singular travelling event called the “Jeme a cantà Sant’Antonie” when they go begging to houses in the municipal area, in the cold, rain, and sometimes even in the snow.
In the past, great bonfires (known as the “fuochi di Sant’Antonio” – St Anthony’s fires – were lit in the countryside to welcome the beggars and to honour the saint.
Traditional “Pasquella songs” were greeted by the people with gifts of chicken, rabbits, preserved meats, eggs, and sweets.
The food collected by the pasquerelli was used for a banquet with the old people in the town.
At Christmas time, from 24 December to 6 January, a number of “presepi viventi” – live Nativity scenes with people and animals – are staged against the evocative backdrop of little villages in the hills and mountains, with flickering torchlight adding to the mystery and to the mystical atmosphere of Christmas.
The countless representations of the birth of Christ include some that are in particularly evocative settings, such as the one that takes place in the alleyways of the ancient town of Grottammare and the one in Falerone, which has a particularly original location in the archaeological area.
The backdrop dates back to Biblical times and hundreds of extras in costume take part.
Porchia, an outlying ward of Montalto Marche, provides the perfect setting for a crib scene that is remarkable for its realism – and indeed it even involves the participation of a newborn baby, aged just a few days, in the part of the Baby Jesus.
In Comunanza, the traditional event sees the participation of 600 extras who evoke the birth of Jesus with an accurate reconstruction of a setting in Palestine at the time.
Traditional cribs, which are direct descendants of the first such representation – which is said to have been initiated by St Francis of Assisi – are also very popular.
Quintodecimo di Acquasanta Terme, itself a Nativity-like setting, puts on a whole series of artistic cribs, while at Cupra Marittima, in the church of SS. Annunziata (16th cent.), a multi-scene crib is on permanent display.
It consists of 19 meticulously created dioramas made using the technique adopted by the Catalan school, with scenes from the life of Christ.
Each year, Holy Week provides an opportunity to stage a re-enactment of the Passion against the backdrop of many towns and villages in Piceno, with rites, processions and festivities dedicated to Easter and the Resurrection.
There is a huge range of events, and Piceno offers a sizeable proportion of the over three thousand representations that are held each year in Italy.
These events bring the religious drama of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ into streets and churches throughout the whole area.
The common theme of all these celebrations starts with the painful commemoration of the Passion and ends with the rejoicing of Easter, and the banquets and picnics of Easter Monday.
A historical re-enactment of the Passion of Christ is traditionally held in Monte San Pietrangeli.
This immensely popular religious drama is filled with pathos and takes place against the backdrop of the beautiful church of SS. Lorenzo e Biagio, a neoclassical masterpiece by Valadier, with beautiful scenic design, costumes and soundtracks.
Other events in the area include the solemnProcession of the Dead Christ, which is particularly meaningful for the faithful.
The processions move very slowly, accompanied by bands and, in some cases, by people in costume; the effigies of the dead Christ are lain on antique gilded wooden baldachins which are authentic works of art.
Some of the most interesting are the procession in Ripatransone, one held every two years in Monterubbiano and another, held every three years, in Grottammare.
In addition to these events commemorating the Passion and Death of Christ, there are Le Madonnelle in Acquasanta Terme and La Desolata in Monte Giberto.
The festive Corpus Domini ends the cycle of Easter rejoicing and celebrates the mystery of the Eucharist.
In a number of villages in Piceno, the occasion is celebrated by the Infiorate – extraordinary temporary works of art painted with a palette of flower petals.
The most interesting are those in Amandola, Montefiore dell’Aso, Ortezzano and Servigliano.