Every Italian town and village has an annual festa in honor of its saint. Here in San Maurizio di Monti they celebrate the eponymous saint every autumn, taking his plaster image from the church and giving him an airing in a solemn procession with prayers, dreadful through a loud-speaker, along the main road. (San Maurizio is one of eight frazione, or administrative appendages, of Rapallo.)
Rapallo proper requires three days for its celebration. The reason is that the Virgin Mary visited Rapallo once upon a time, and the miracles that have accrued (and continue to accrue?) require more than the usual amount of celebration. (For a brief account of the miraculous origin of the Sanctuary see the link to the right, “The peasant, the virgin, etc.” under Elaborations in Pages. It is a story that demands a touch of humor; parts of it may tax your credibility.)
For several weeks before the Big Festa, July 1, 2 and 3, pilgrims daily make their way by foot from Rapallo to Montallegro, carrying candles and singing in the early dawn. It is haunting to hear wisps of hymns drift over the brow of the hill in the barely-there light of 4 a.m.
On the night of July third there is a big parade with all the special ‘parade crosses’ from the region participating. There are white Christs, black Christs, tinsel galore, and colorful costumes. The men who carry the crosses wear specially designed belts with a pouch to take the base of the heavy crucifix. They stagger along balancing the crosses against their chests without using their hands.
Rapallo has six sestiere, or districts, all of which compete in the annual fireworks extravaganza. Two sestiere set off their displays on each of the three nights of the festa. The event draws large crowds which line the Lungomare waiting for the climax: the ‘burning’ of the castello. The castle is outlined in white flares which give it the appearance of being composed entirely of fire.
At this year’s parade 30,000 viewers were expected, and there were 300 policemen on duty, many borrowed from nearby cities. You don’t want to try to drive through Rapallo on the night of July 3.