The Race of the Candles of Gubbio in Umbria

- In collaboration with www.paesaggiritrovati.it online newspaper of culture of the territory
 
Run, try not to tilt too much or fall and keep the same pace as the others - these are the key points of one of the oldest Italian folkloristic events. It's known as the Race of the Candles of Gubbio, a medieval town in the heat of Italy's greenest region, Umbria. Some believe that it has pagan festival origins, but the best-documented theories speak of an act of devotion in honor of the patron of Gubbio, Bishop Ubaldo Baldassini, since 1160, the year of his death.

On May 15 of each year, a great torchlight procession of candle sticks, the "Luminaria" (Illuminations) travel through the streets of the city to Mount Ingino, the site of the tomb of Saint Ubaldo in the Basilicata named after him. With the passing of years, however, the candles have grown so much that they have been replaced by true works of carpentry art. Slabs of pine or fir wood, covered with cotton or hemp cloths decorated with floral motifs, mounted on a central structure of elm and finished in beech and oak. Today, they are composed of three prisms containing the candle and can be up to 16 feet tall with a total weight of around 660 pounds.

Among the excitement and the commotion of the crowd that follows the event each year, the three "machines" of wood surmounted by statues of Saints are carried on the shoulder for a journey of 2.5 miles, by an undetermined number of candle makers in costume, locals who still hand down a similar "honor" from father to son. Symbols of the three protectors of the three trade guilds, St. Ubaldo for the bricklayers, St. Giorgio for the merchants and craftsmen and St. Antonio for the peasants, the three candles race through the town's narrow streets, swaying and at times dangerously touching the walls and windows of houses.

Next, there are the winding dirt rows and the uphill hairpin turns that lead up to the final moment on Mount Ingino. In total ovation, the candle makers, with the last of their strength, conclude the ritual with the "Dimming", by entering in the doorways of the St. Ubaldo Basilica. A moment of great spectacle with toasting and celebrating, among the cries and applause of the people, brass band music and drummers and waves of flags bearing colors of the candles.

When the race ends, it's time to sit down at the table around the taverns of the candle makers eating typical traditional peasantry dishes. The root of Umbrian cuisine date back first to the Etruscans then to the Romans, which frequently used legumes and grains as well as the region's "noble" ingredients, such as truffles and olive oil. In particular, typical recipes from Gubbio include "fricco' all'eugubina" (Gubbian frico), a stewed meat dish made with lamb or mixed meat, accompanied by "crescia" (a type of salted focaccia made with water and flour), and yellow squash gnocchi.