A medieval Festival in Gubbio, town found in the northeast corner of Umbria, where 3 saints race and one always wins.
For the last 900 years, the small town of Gubbio, in Italy, celebrates their patron saint in a most original way.
They still do.
It’s a one of a kind festival, full of energy and excitement.
Nothing else that interests the people of Gubbio every spring.
And on May 15th, the entire town of Gubbio shuts down to celebrate this age old tradition.
People come from all over Umbria and Italy, and if they can’t come they watch the festivities live on the local television.
An Overview of the Festival in Gubbio
It’s called La Festa
The candles are massive, made of wood, and have a saint on the top.
These are not candles in the traditional sense as they aren’t set on fire. There are 3 Ceri, and they are important and famous enough to be the official symbol of Umbria.
Each candle has a team of men, distinguishable by the
The race of the Ceri is the most important holiday in
The Origin of La Festa dei Ceri
It could date back to be a pagan ritual to the goddess called Ceres.
Or it could be from when Gubbio defeated 11 cities in 1154.
But the more popular story is from May 16th, 1160 the day the Bishop of Gubbio died. To
From that year a procession is organized on the eve of his death, May 15th. During the 12th century, tradesmen donated these huge candles and the yearly pilgrimage appears like what we see today.
So What are these Ceri?
The stars of this festival in Gubbio, are three
At 5 meters tall, or 16.5 feet, they weigh around 400 kg (880 lbs)! It takes a team of 10 men to carry one cero.
To move them, and to race with them, the candles are mounted on a frame, like a stretcher, shaped like the letter H which distributes the weight.
The Ceri are heavy and precarious from their height, so it is common to see at least one will hit the wall of a building.
Watching them run through the streets of Gubbio and up the mountain is a dangerous and exciting spectator sport. The finish is at the Basilica of Saint Ubaldo.
Made of wood, each candle has a statue of its saint placed on top. These saints protect workers: Ubaldo protects the bricklayers, Antonio protects farmers and students, and George the mill workers.
Interested in seeing the Ceri up close?
It isn’t possible on May 15th, but the rest of the year you can find the Ceri stored at the Basilica of Saint Ubaldo.
Go for a hike up the hill behind Gubbio for a beautiful scenic walk and then find them inside the small Basilica with a sweet little courtyard.
Each Candle Has His Its
They hold elections for who will make up the teams in two years’ time in the early of May 15th.
This is a serious business.
Each Cero has a team of men who can only run for 70 meters at a time. This rule is for the men’s safety and for the safety of the Cero. The race works as a relay, with the men trading off throughout the race.
The Race Of The Ceri
Crowds of tourists and locals pack the streets, packed like sardines.
But it’s a friendly happy crowd; everyone is out embracing the chaos.
It is the most important day of the year in Gubbio.
It Begins: The Raising of the Ceri
At 11.45 on May
Team members give the captain a beautiful ceramic jug filled with water and he pours it between the candle and stretcher. He throws the jug into the crowd where it shatters and the people rush to find pieces. The pieces of the shattered jug are considered good luck charms. They raise the Ceri and the race begins!
The Race Around Gubbio And Up The Mountain
They take a few turns around the piazza and begin the tour through the streets of Gubbio. You can’t miss them as the race lasts the entire afternoon. Not until the late afternoon does the important part begin, at around 6 pm.
The Ceri leave the historic town of Gubbio and head up the mountain. It is 4 km up to the Basilica, always going up and along the winding narrow paths. The Ceri have to be going as fast as possible to make the race dramatic and exciting.
Yes, it’s a race, but the same candle arrives first every year. That winner is always the same. Guess who? The candle of Saint Ubaldo must be the first to arrive into the Basilica.
That said, the town will discuss the race for the year to come and there will be a winner in their mind, who did the best job, and it might not be the team of Saint Ubaldo.
Thinking of coming to the Festival in Gubbio, one of the Most Exciting Events In Italy?
For Gubbio’s Festa
People come from all over Italy and parking is tricky. I would suggest a train or bus as the best way to arrive in Gubbio on May 15th.
Whatever you see it is a festival worth taking part in, for the pure thrill and excitement!
Looking for A Festival in Gubbio without the Crowds?
Find crowds overwhelming?
A second option is to visit Gubbio on the first Sunday of May.
It’s the morning the three Ceri are brought down the mountain from their home in the Basilica of Saint Ubaldo to the city center of Gubbio.
Each candle is brought down horizontally.
Kids sit on top, dressed in the colors of the saint the cero represents. Marching bands dressed in medieval costumes walk between the Ceri. And the town of Gubbio is already in a festive spirit, filled with anticipation for what La Festa
While all of Gubbio takes part in the first Sunday morning in May, it’s far from the number of people who come to Gubbio on May 15th.
Thinking of visiting for La Festa Dei Ceri, or to see the Ceri in the Basilica of Saint Ubaldo? I have a post about Gubbio in general here.