We The Italians | Italian traditions: La Macchina di Santa Rosa, Viterbo

Italian traditions: La Macchina di Santa Rosa, Viterbo

Italian traditions: La Macchina di Santa Rosa, Viterbo

  • WTI Magazine #66 Aug 21, 2015
  • 4561

WTI Magazine #66    2015 August, 21
Author : folclore.it      Translation by:


The transport of the Macchina di Santa Rosa is the feast par excellence in Viterbo, dedicated to the patron saint of Santa Rosa, who lived in the thirteenth century and whose memory is evoked by Viterbo through a event which is unique in the world: uplifting, almost indescribable for its beauty, spectacle and emotion. The Macchina di Santa Rosa consists of a tower lit by torches and electric lights, made by an internal metal infrastructure and modern materials such as fiberglass, about thirty meters high and weighing five tons.

Each year, in the evening of September 3, it is raised and carried on the shoulders by a hundred strong men called "Facchini" along a little more than a kilometer along the streets, sometimes very narrow, and the squares of the city center, between the crowd full of emotions, joy and even some fear.

But every description on paper or video is nearly useless because nothing can make the idea if you do not attend the live transport of the Macchina di Santa Rosa, always able to arouse new sensations even in the yearly repetition of the event.

The origins of the Macchina go back to the years after 1258 when, to commemorate the transfer of the body of Santa Rosa from the Church of S. Maria in Poggio to the shrine dedicated to her, which took place on September 4 at the behest of Pope Alexander IV, the city wanted to repeat the procession carrying a picture or a statue of the Santa on a lighted canopy, which along the centuries grew up more and more up to reaching the actual colossal dimensions. The current model (the official version of the Macchina since 2009) is called "Flower of Heaven".

September 3 is a very special day for the Viterbo (but also for the multitude of curious tourists attracted every year in a growing number by the event): many citizens get to the streets early in the morning. But the day is even more crucial for the "Facchini", the "heroes for a day" that in 1978 established an Association bearing the title of "Cavalieri di S. Rosa" (The Knights of Santa Rosa), always carrying the various "machines" that changed through the years.

After lunch the porters, dressed in the traditional white uniform with a red sash at the waist (the white symbolizes the purity of spirit of the patron Saint, the red is to honour the Cardinals who in 1258 transferred her body), move to the seat of the municipality where they receive the greetings of the authorities, then go to visit the seven churches in the center of Viterbo, and finally they end up in retreat to the Capuchin monastery, where the "capofacchino" (their leader) gives them the latest information on the transportation.

At about 8 pm, preceded by a band that plays their anthem, the porters start from the Sanctuary of Santa Rosa and go back through the route of the Macchina, acclaimed by the crowd, until they reach the Church of Saint Sisto, near Porta Romana, close to the "mossa" (the place where the Macchina di Santa Rosa is assembled in the days before the event, and from where the transport begins).

Here is imparted to them by the bishop the so-called blessing in articulo mortis, which religiously prepares the porters to the sacrifices they will face heroically to transfer with their only physical strength and faith the immense weight of the Macchina for over a kilometer.

The porters are divided into various categories, depending on the position they have and the tasks they perform. They can be "ciuffi" (clumps, from the name of the characteristic headdress leather that protects the neck of the men positioned in the nine internal file directly under the Macchina); they can be "spallette" and "stanghette" (the carriers occupying the outer rows, respectively side and front and rear). They take place under the beams at the base of the Macchina and when the capofacchino proclaims "Sotto col ciuffo e fermi!" (Let's go with the clump and stop!), "Sollevate e fermi!" (Lift and firm!) and then "Per Santa Rosa, avanti!" ("For Santa Rosa, let's go!), and this is when the difficult path begins.

After five stops, the porters have to take the big final effort, via a steep uphill road that leads to the Sanctuary. It is performed almost at a run, with the help of pulling ropes and beams that push posteriorly.

When the giant shining torch is placed on the support stands, another transport has been finished and it is the triumph of an entire city of Viterbo. The faces of the porters, until then tense and distressed by the toil of their act of devotion, become smiling and moved by happiness. The Macchina di Santa Rosa remains exposed for a few days after September 3, while the urn which houses the body of the Patron Saint is visited by thousands of devotees.