Italians demonstrate their passion in a multitude of ways.

Many non-Italians might think this would manifest mainly as energetic hand gestures, unrestrained facial expressions, and animated voices. They don’t necessarily consider passion as something expressed with reverence and dignity. In my experience, reverence and dignity just might be the highest forms of Italians expressing their passion for a culture that has been over twenty thousand years in the making.

As an American, I remember feeling like the Civil War and the Revolutionary War were something ancient. My, how living in Italy for eight years has changed that!

With reverence and dignity

Italian festivals provide a motherlode of subjects.

That’s why, when I’m not homebound with the latest Covid restrictions (Liguria is designated as an orange zone, meaning we can’t leave our comune), I eagerly head out, camera in hand, to capture moments of Italian reverence and dignity. So, in the past couple of days, I’ve traveled back in time to events I have attended and to which I’ve had a press pass and front row positioning, thanks to my dear friend Novelia.

The Giostra Cavalleresca di Sulmona

This is the “Knightly Joust” of Sulmona, Abruzzo. Read about it on Wikipedia to understand its history. And, check out my blog post about it (along with a video that takes you right into the action!). For this photo essay, I did a slow crawl through my photo archive to see what I might have zoomed past before. I’m glad I took a hard second look because I unearthed some real gems.

with reverence and dignity

A procession resplendent in Medieval pageantry.

On the Saturday of and Sunday of the main event for La Giostra, a mid-afternoon procession pours out of the park in front of the Cathedral of San Panfilo and makes its way to Piazza Garibaldi where the jousting competition is held. And what a procession it is. We’re talking about meticulously sewn and crafted costumes. It’s an honor and privilege to don one of these and make the rather long trek in what often is near-unbearable heat (the event is held the last week in July). One’s carriage must be manifest with reverence and dignity.

I watched the young man featured above through the eye of my telephoto lens. I followed him up the Corso. Not once did I see him break character, though surely his best friends were cheering from the sidelines.

The Sunday morning following this shot, I DID see this very same young man in contemporary stylish clothes, hanging out with friends. He was relaxed. He was laughing. What a beautiful contrast. What a clear indication that this guy stepped into his character and performed his role with passion.

with reverence and dignity

Such well-played roles transport the viewer back centuries.

To me this woman is example of classic Italian beauty. The grace she embodied as she almost floated down the street amazed me.

The images below also are prime examples of reverence and dignity—and intriguing character studies. The moments I captured are those when my subjects weren’t aware of my presence and preening for my camera.

with reverence and dignity
with reverence and dignity
with reverence and dignity

Supreme solemnity.

Some events and processions call for a grave seriousness. One such event is the Easter Sunday Running of the Madonna, also in Abruzzo. Read my blog post about it here.

Preceding the main event in Piazza Garibaldi, a Good Friday funeral procession slowly emerges from the doors SS Trinità on Corso Ovidio. Statues of a crucified Christ, apostles John and Peter, and Mary in mourning are carried on the shoulders of men cloaked in deep burgundy robes. A chorus of men, many carrying large illuminated orbs on brass poles, sing a deep funeral dirge with solemn reverence. I remember experiencing the event’s power while being stationed on a center median in the middle of the Corso and this sea of men flowed around me. Wow, wow, wow!

The featured image at the top of this post shows a young man serious in his task and his role. And, the image with which I close this essay captures a man wearing a face of profound sadnes befitting of this momentous mourning of Christ’s death. The darkness of this event, its tribute to grief, is what gives such emotion and joy to the celebration of the resurrection two days later when Mary runs to her newly risen son in the Piazza.

with reverence and dignity

All photos featured in this post are protected by copyright and are property of Jed Smith and cannot be reproduced without permission.