Dave and I often visit his family in Gubbio, Italia—the beautiful, medieval hill town of his grandparents. But this year’s visit was extra special.
Gubbio is a beloved town throughout Italy, as Italians cherish the story of il Lupo di Gubbio—the notorious wolf, who terrorized the village until tamed by St. Francis of Assisi.
I fondly recall Dave’s dad mentioning the Festa dei Ceri and Sant’Ubaldo. Finally, Dave and I were able to experience this centuries-old event, which happens only one day each year and has roots back to pagan rituals. The festival emotion of the people in this jewel of a town is not easily explained, but is best experienced.
The evening prior, Dave’s cousins treated us to a special bell-ringing, where we were granted permission to watch up at the bell tower. We curved up the many ancient steps to the rooftop of the Palazzo dei Consoli (years ago, I took a pic of Dave on those same steps; it’s his Facebook profile photo). As we waited, we watched people gathering in the piazza below. Then the campanari (the master bell ringers) climbed the tower. We marveled at these four men, who used their hands and feet to heave the massive bells into motion, swinging them in melodious tones. After their extended performance, they brought us up into the tower to touch the bells. It was all quite spectacular to us Californians.
After the grand bell-ringing, we descended the old, curved stairwell and stepped back into the streets. The whole town buzzed with excitement, and the festival eve celebration lasted well into the night, with lots of singing, wine, and food.
We walked through this perfect, medieval city, from street to street, ducking in and out of cantine (cellars) in people’s homes for another glass of wine and a bite to eat. In one courtyard, a small band accompanied a woman, who belted out Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma” while tables of free food and wine surrounded us. We meandered the streets to another little piazza for more wine and more food—all there in the spirit of celebration. We just don’t have such things where we live.
We thoroughly enjoyed the local Sagrantino wine—a varietal that we must seek out at home. Our wine highlight: when cousins took us to meet some Y&T fans, who shared their own homemade, young but exceptional Sagrantino.
Another Menichetti (the real spelling, which Dave’s grandfather changed when he grew tired of Americans butchering the pronunciation) told us some great stories of how the biggest Y&T fan in town used to call him “Dave Meniketti” when they were growing up—so much so that some people in town thought his real name was Dave!
It was fun to see so many fans on this celebratory night stopping Dave (the real Dave Meniketti) on the streets to take a photo with him or just shake his hand.
The next morning, Dave’s cousins adorned us with the official red bandannas of the Festa dei Ceri. We were now officially part of the event. They led us back to the old town streets to watch the procession. People were feverish for their teams, which are a part of their family history. We followed the family team of Sant’Ubaldo into the grand piazza for the ceremonious start of the event. The piazza was rammed with spectators, and we all stood elbow to elbow.
After much pomp and circumstance, the historical details explained by the family surrounding us, the teams raised the massive Ceri, each topped with their team’s respective saint, circled the piazza, and off they went, winding through the ancient streets. It was certainly a sight to behold.
Before racing to the church at the mountaintop, each team paraded the Ceri through the streets, stopping throughout the day to allow people to touch for luck, and bowing their saint to those watching the festivities from windows above. Dave was fortunate enough to carry the Sant’Ubaldo Ceri with his cousins for a short distance. He said, “It was heavy!”
The afternoon had brought steady rain, so we returned to the house, changed our clothes, and rested briefly. The TV was on in the background with the event televised live, and Dave spotted us on Italian television! Also, the announcers mentioned Dave, as he was a special guest there for the weekend. Pretty cool!
After the closing ceremonies of the day, the Ceri saints were returned for the night to a little church in town, under which we were brought downstairs to see a real treat—the tomb of the wolf! Then, it was back to meandering the ancient streets, stopping here and there for more food and wine.
It was phenomenal to experience this centuries-old tradition that was so ingrained in the lives of Dave’s grandparents and ascendants. But words cannot aptly describe our experience. We feel so fortunate that Dave’s lovely family gave us the full experience, emotions and all.
This fabulous weekend came to a close the next night as we were formally invited as guests to a very special dinner with the mayor and the two captains from the festival. More local wine—Sagrantino (yay!) and Grechetto—and an amazing meal. During this special dinner, Dave was presented with two honors from Gubbio. What a wonderful end to three fabulous days. I only wish Dave’s dad and uncles could have been there with us. We’re ever so grateful for the family that remains, and those who contributed to an experience we’ll never forget.