Sartène is known as the most Corsican of Corsican towns, so it is no surprise that ‘u Catenacciu’ - the most famous of the Good Friday processions – is held here.
I am not particularly religious, so I went along more out of interest than anything else. I’d been warned that parking could be a problem, so I arrived nice an early, and found myself a nice spot to sit and read my book in the Place Porta in front of the church.
I can get quite carried away with a decent Agatha Christie, so it wasn’t until it started to get dark and I looked up, that I realised that the square was packed with people. Pretty soon, there was only standing room left, and people started to jostle for the best positions.
The name ‘Catenacciu’ comes from the Latin ‘Catena’ meaning chains, and u Catenacciu literally means ‘The Chained One’. The ceremony represents the crucifixion of Christ, and an unknown penitent wearing red robes and a hood, walks barefoot through the streets of the town carrying a huge wooden cross that weighs 34.5kg and shackled by the right ankle with 17kg of chains. Only the priest knows the identity of the penitent, and legend has it that people can wait up to 40 years to be chosen – blimey!
The procession covers approximately 2km in two hours and is incredibly moving. Members of the church follow the penitent chanting the ancient penitence ‘Perdono, mio Dio’ over and over again. Like Jesus on his way to the cross, the penitent falls three times along the way and the onlookers recite the Lord’s Prayer whilst he rests on the ground.
The procession ends back at the church where the priest gives mass. I can quite see how group hysteria works as this was one of the most moving experiences of my life. Apparently the ceremony dates back to 1710 and was created by the brotherhood ‘A compagnia del Santissimo Sacramento’. For some reason it stopped in 1920, but was reprised again in 1990. I’m delighted it was because this is an experience not to be missed for anyone in Corsica over Easter.