Friday, July 22, 2005


Trastevere Loves Its Marian Tradition

By Elizabeth Lev

ROME, JULY 21, 2005 ( Just as the torrid July weather gets into full swing, Rome's hottest festival starts up. The Festa di Noantri from July 16 to 24 brings the already lively Roman quarter of Trastevere to fever pitch.
The name of the feast, "Noantri," derives from the Roman dialect and perhaps is best translated as "ourselves," but while celebrations do take place in the quarter proudly proclaimed by the inhabitants as the home of "true Romans," the holiday is all about the Madonna of Mount Carmel.
The feast was officially instituted in 1927, but the origins date back to the 16th century. In 1535, after a violent thunderstorm, a statue of Mary carved out of cedar wood washed up on the shores of the Tiber. She was brought up the river and given to the then Carmelite church of St. Chrysogonus.
The "Madonna fiumarola," or "river Mary," has been celebrated every year since with processions, prayer and song. This being Trastevere, however, food and wine abound as well.
The festivities began with a Mass at the Church of St. Agatha, the present home of the processional statue, while the original is kept in Santa Cecilia. It was celebrated by Archbishop Angelo Amato, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
After Mass, the statue was brought out before the church and the procession formed in the square. City standards, Trastevere flags and Carmelite banners were hoisted aloft. The local police band played as a huge wooden vine-wrapped cross rose high in the air and the archbishop, Carmelites and faithful took their places.
But the crowd was waiting for Mary. The Madonna of Carmel sails through the streets on a large wooden platform, crowned with an arched canopy. Sculpted wooden cherubs play at her feet and hover over her head. Reminiscent of the wood rafts of the rivermen who found the statue, it weighs about the same.
Traditionally the young men of Trastevere vie with one another for a chance to show off their physical prowess by carrying the heavy float. Each year, 16 "fusti" -- hunks -- are chosen to bear the Madonna on their shoulders.
As the young men lifted Mary into the air, the crowds broke into wild applause, crying, "Evviva Maria!" Hundreds followed the procession through the narrow streets of Trastevere, decorated for the occasion with banners hanging from windows and palm leaves forming archways.
Amid Marian hymns and prayers, the procession made its way to the historic churches of Trastevere, ending at St. Chrysogonus. There the Madonna rested in the church which had once been her home. At midnight, by music and candlelight, she returned to St. Agatha's.
The visit of the Madonna of Mount Carmel to the churches in the quarter reinforced the bond among the different parishes and orders of Trastevere, but also between neighborhoods or even countries. It may be the feast of the Noantri, but the "ourselves" extends to the world.

Elizabeth Lev teaches Christian art and architecture at Duquesne University's Rome campus. She can be reached at

You can find some other awesome pictures of the 2000 Festival here

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