Viterbo and Tuscia Culture
La Macchina di Santa Rosa
St. Rose is the highly venerated patron saint of Viterbo. She was born in Viterbo and mostly lived as a recluse. St. Rose was known for her strong support of the papacy and for her gift of predicting the future. St. Rose is the inspiration for the most famous cultural tradition in Viterbo known as La Macchina di Santa Rosa.
This tradition occurs every year on the night of September 3rd, the eve of the feast of St. Rose. It began when Pope Alexander IV ordered the body of St. Rose to be transferred to Santa Maria delle Rose church. This event led to a two-part tradition. The first part actually occurs on the afternoon of September 2nd and it involves a procession in which the reliquary of the St. Rose’s heart is carried through the city. The second part occurs during the evening of September 3rd and this involves the physical transporting of the Macchina di Santa Rosa.
The Macchina di Santa Rosa is a tower nearly 30 meters high weighing around 5 tonnes. It is carried by one hundred men from Viterbo referred to as "Facchini di Santa Rosa" (the porters of Saint Rose). These men carry the Macchina in Viterbo’s medieval center, navigating it through the city’s narrow streets and squares. The Macchina is taken to seven churches where it is blessed before arriving at the Piazza di Santa Rosa where it is placed, marking the end of the procession. The distance traveled by the procession is roughly 1 kilometer.
The procession of the Macchina di Santa Rosa draws many people to Viterbo because the Macchina is illuminated and ornately decorated, resulting in an awe-inspiring experience for both visitors and citizens of Viterbo. The design of the Macchina is changed every five years and the most recent Macchina used in the 2015 procession is called Gloria (Glory).
The Chestnut Festival
There are also important cultural events held in the province of Viterbo, known as Tuscia. One example is the annual Chestnut Festival in Soriano nel Cimino. It occurs over a period of ten days in October and it celebrates both the chestnut, which is prevalently found in the Cimini Mountains, as well as local historical events. Because Soriano nel Cimino was historically separated into four quarters (Papacqua, Rocca, Trinità, San Giorgio), today members of these quarters compete in events such as street decoration and archery competitions. One of the rewards is the Palio, a religious icon.
The events of the festival end with a historical procession known as “Soriano and its quarters”. During this procession, more than five hundred participants walk through the town dressed in historically accurate medieval and Renaissance costumes. At the very end of the procession there is the enormous Cupule of Chestnuts, which is the symbol of the festival.
The Biscuit Festival in Bomarzo
Dating back to 1973, this unique festival in Tuscia honors of St. Anselm. It is believed that St. Anselm, the bishop of Bomarzo, would distribute doughnut-shaped biscuits to the poor and to pilgrims traveling to Rome. To celebrate their beloved saint, during the festival the citizens of Bomarzo bake nearly 2,000 biscuits reminiscent of those distributed by St. Anselm himself.
Another aspect has been added to the festival recently and it has attracted many visitors. It is known as The Palio di Sant’Anselmo and it is horse race with each horse and jockey representing a different neighborhood of the town: Dentro, Borgo, Poggio, Croci and Madonna del Piano. The Palio transpires during the afternoon of April 25th, and it too features a procession. Members of this procession are dressed in 16th century costumes based on characters described in a novel written by Manuel Mujica Lainez entitled “Bomarzo”. This Palio is a bit reminiscent of another quite famous Italian tradition known as the Palio di Siena which occurs biannually in Tuscany.