Holy Week processions in Mendrisio

Categories: social practices, rituals and festive events; performing arts.

These Holy Week processions are among the most important festivals in Italian-speaking Switzerland and have existed since the 17th century. They mark Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, in other words the Last Supper and Jesus’ death by crucifixion. Besides the religious function, the processions also have a significant artistic and craftsmanship element: the production of lanterns and transparenti – translucent paintings mounted on wooden frames that light up the route of the processions and feature symbolic or biblical motifs. Some of these are over 100 years old and are preserved and used alongside more contemporary creations.

Karfreitag: Kinder mit «Transparenten» © Adriano Heitmann
Good Friday: children with transparenti © Adriano Heitmann

The Holy Week processions, which are documented as far back as the second half of the 17th century, make their way through the old town of Mendrisio on the evenings of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. The street lights are turned off so that the lanes are bathed in the soft light given off by illuminated pictures called transparenti. The pictures are of varying shapes and sizes and are lit from inside. They light up the entire route and depict scenes from the Gospel and Old Testament. On the evening of Maundy Thursday, around 270 amateur players act out the Passion of Christ through a series of scenes based on the Gospels. The performances feature horsemen, Roman soldiers and biblical characters dressed in lavish costumes. The procession is characterised by the absence of dialogue between characters, who only express themselves through silent gestures and poses.
The simple and formal Good Friday procession is imbued with a more pronounced religious element. More than 700 members of the various brotherhoods and church associations take part. The men carry statues of the dead Christ and grieving Virgin Mary, and onlookers are invited to bow down before them. The procession features three companies of musicians playing solemn funeral marches, with herald drummers on horseback leading the way and bringing up the rear. The Holy Week processions are preceded by the Settenario, a church ceremony dedicated to the Seven Sorrows of Mary.

On 12 December 2019, the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage met in Bogota (Colombia) and inscribed the Holy Week processions in Mendrisio on its representative list.

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The tradition in detail in the list of Switzerland’s living traditions

Associated traditions

In parallel to the preparation of the nomination file for UNESCO, the corresponding files and entries on the list of Switzerland’s living traditions are also adapted as part of the regular update of the inventory. This work is done in collaboration with the stakeholders concerned.

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Last modification 29.01.2024

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