The Running Madonna – “La Madonna che Scappa”

The big moment

The Running Madonna, The Madonna Who Runs, and The Runaway Madonna – this Easter event goes by several names.

This is a spectacular event, and one of the biggest events in Italy. It’s been acted out for centuries in Sulmona, a medieval city in Abruzzo. If you get the chance, I strongly urge you to experience The Running of the Madonna in person. You’ll find yourself swept along in the weekend’s highly charged emotional events, which all lead up to a singular, breathtaking moment in Piazza Garibaldi.

Book your travel and accommodations early for the Running of the Madonna!

My precious friends Novelia and Peppe (also residents and superb ambassadors of Sulmona) started enticing me to block out time on my calendar, and book accommodations, well over a year ago. Even securing a room at a B&B almost eight months prior to the event before was a challenge. I almost didn’t get a place.

So what exactly is The Running of the Madonna all about?

Much attention is given to the pivotal moment on Easter Sunday when the Madonna races across Piazza Girabaldi, but the full experience begins on Friday night. Don’t miss it or you’ll be short-changing yourself, and missing out on why the experience on Sunday is so emotional.

The procession begins Friday night

So much heaviness. So much solemnity. You can feel the weight in the air, in the faces, in the body language, in the seriousness of the participants in the procession. This is a funeral procession, after all. Jesus has been crucified and a darkness has come over the world. The procession emanates from a church on the main thoroughfare, and begins with young men in formation carrying tall polls adorned with globes of light. A dark-suited band (reminiscent of a funeral wake in New Orleans), and a seemingly endless men’s chorus, walking in a choreographed side-to-side shuffling formation, sings a lament.

Then, a crucified Jesus is carried from the church, on the shoulders of several men, while stoic and handsomely clad carabinieri stand guard and salute. The the statue of Mary, dressed all in black emerges from the church. She is in mourning.

The procession winds its way through the streets of Sulmona for hours, setting the stage for what is to come Sunday.

Below are a few of the images from the procession. Given the heaviness of the event, I decided to render the photos in black and white (while choosing color for Sunday’s event, which celebrates Christ’s resurrection).

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Easter Sunday is the main event of the Running of the Madonna

It’s best to stake out a place along the barricaded path constructed for the big finale or find accommodations on the square that have a balcony or roof-top view (I was staying at the Sei Stelle B&B, which has a wonderful rooftop terrace). Getting a good spot is competitive, and people can be surprisingly resourceful, and aggressive, at inserting themselves in a prime viewing spot. Can’t say I blame them, but I warn you to be prepared to hold your ground. Otherwise, you can show up at nine in the morning, and by noon, when things are really happening, you can be scratching your head because you’re now three people back. It happens (just ask people who attend Palio in Siena!)

Thanks to my guardian angel, Novelia, she secured a special pass for us to be in the protected center of things, with the newscasters, and paparazzi. How fortunate can a man be – to be attending such a momentous event for the first time while having such an unimpeded few of the action?

While Friday the night event was cloaked in deep colors and sorrow, Sunday’s events were full of color, and ultimately, hope.

Sunday’s procession makes its way to Piazza Girabaldi around ten-thirty, and a mass is held, as the piazza is rapidly filling to an overflow capacity. On this particular Sunday, the rain began to spit intermittently. Fortunately, it never turned into a full-scale downpour. For me, it was a bit of a balancing act – literally – as I carried my umbrella while protecting my Canon 5D Mark III, and my 70-200mm zoom lens.

Breaks in the weather came and went. In fact, the path for the Running of the Madonna was beginning to look a bit perilous. But, as if the heavens were shining on the day, the rain stopped for the big moment when the Madonna, in the same black mourning cloak, emerges from the Chiesa di San Filippo Neri, opposite the aqueduct, where the statue of the newly risen Christ has been placed.

But, the mood is still heavy. After all, Mary has not yet been convinced (by the Apostle John and Apostle Peter, who have been accompanying her) that her son is resurrected. Then, at the crucial moment, Mary sees her son, and in a flash, her black mourning attire vanishes, revealing her rich green attire that has been lurking beneath. Simultaneously doves are released into the air.

And, then Mary runs like crazy

…on the back of six men (Lauretani dressed in white and green) who are booking it, across the piazza at breakneck speed, to the statue of Jesus. The crowd goes wild, and Handel’s Hallelujah chorus seems to emerge from the clouds above. Emotions erupt, and tears flow freely. People rush to embrace one another.

Yes, there is hope.

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I hope I’ve been able to transport you, in some small way, to The Running of the Madonna. While I’m happy with the images I captured, they’re no substitute for being there in the flesh and feeling the profound emotions of such a revered event.

In closing, I once again offer my deepest gratitude to Novelia Giannantonio and her husband Peppe for their boundless generosity. if you’re looking for a place to stay in Sulmona contact Novelia about her lovely spacious two-bedroom Casa di Cuore which she rents out (I can put you in touch with her, just send me a note through my contact link). She and Peppe will make sure you’re pointed in the right direction about things to do.



By |2019-01-27T10:37:41+01:00April 18th, 2017|Abruzzo|29 Comments

About the Author:

I’m an American expat living in Italy!


  1. Kathryn Smith May 3, 2017 at 10:06 pm - Reply

    You paint a detailed word portrait, and your photos further enhance it. Thanks for sharing this meaningful tradition to your friends worldwide.

    • Jed May 4, 2017 at 12:44 pm - Reply

      Grazie Kathryn, I’ll keep endeavoring to share my Italian experiences in a way that brings viewers into the setting/event as much as possible! I love using words and photos to tell the story!

  2. Timoteo May 2, 2017 at 2:27 pm - Reply

    Count me as another of Novelia’s disciples. My wife Julie and I were lucky to spend time in Sulmona in January and your post reminds us of those wonderful times.

    • Jed May 2, 2017 at 3:48 pm - Reply

      Glad to hear that! Yes, Novelia is like the Pied Piper, isn’t she? We’re all so lucky to have her come into our lives!

  3. Iva and Tom April 22, 2017 at 5:48 am - Reply

    We visited Sulmona few years ago, spent about 8 days in Abruzzio.
    Tom and I were very fortunate to be introduced to Novelia and Peppe.
    Novelia showed us her passion for Sulmona and Abruzzo, she allowed us for that short time we had in Abruzzo to feel nearly ABRUZZIAN.
    We learnt about history, about famous people , who were born in Abruzzo and ” made it big” away from home.
    We learnt , how to make spaghetti, how to cook and dance while cooking, how to enjoy good quality food and the most , the warmth, friendship and knowledge about that beautiful part of the world.
    People , who met Novelia and Peppe and people , who visited Abruzxo, can say, they have been very fortunate.
    I will try to keep in touch with Novelia and Peppe as long as I live.
    Iva and Tom

    • Jed April 23, 2017 at 10:50 am - Reply

      Hi Iva and Tom! The circle is wide isn’t it? Novelia and Peppe are amazing, and they are wonderful guides and hosts to all things relating to Abruzzo. If you get a chance to have Novelia’s lasagna (made by hand) in the future, you’re in for a treat! Jed

  4. Alice Scott April 20, 2017 at 10:07 pm - Reply

    Dear Jed, your pictures and commentary showed clearly the seriousness and passion of this wonderful ceremony, and I was greatly moved.
    My husband Mario and I were lucky enough to meet. Novelia 6 years ago and adored her instantly. We do hope to return one day.
    Thank you

    • Jed April 21, 2017 at 3:13 pm - Reply

      Dear Alice, I’m so glad you found my recounting of the Easter weekend in Sulmona to do justice to the enormity of the event. Brava to you for also having found Novelia. She is a gem, isn’t she! Jed

  5. Marilyn April 20, 2017 at 7:31 pm - Reply

    Ciao, Twice I’ve seen the Madonna running, once in good weather and once in rain. It is amazing and moving no matter what the weather. There is something magical and special about the Abruzzo and Sulmona, but the crowning glory of Sulmona is Novelia, Peppe, Vittoria & Carlo and their entire family. One’s life is never the same after meeting them!

  6. Melanie Garthwaite April 20, 2017 at 12:24 pm - Reply

    Hi Jed.
    We really enjoyed reading your account of the Easter celebration in beautiful Sulmona. We had seen the Running of the Madonna on YouTube and had been playing it over and over again and sharing with friends and our guests. It is such a spectacular event and your photos captured the moments beautifully. We felt the emotion and a tear or two came to my eyes. The vibrant green of the priests capes and the yellow on the cloaks of the policemen were fabulous. They certainly know how to celebrate in Sulmona! I will be in Sulmona in just 4 weeks time to complete renovations to our flat so hopefully I may meet you in the next 2 months. We really enjoy reading your blogs. You are a wealth of knowledge!!! Thank you again.
    Mel & John

    • Jed April 20, 2017 at 8:54 pm - Reply

      Thanks Melanie! I’m glad you liked re-living the experience, yet again, through my photos and story. I’m sure the memories can rushing back. It really is something else. I feel so lucky to have been there with a front row seat!!!

  7. Eloise April 19, 2017 at 3:06 pm - Reply

    Dear Jed,

    I enjoyed your article on Sulmona. Novelia notified me this morning of your blog and I am so very glad she did. The photos and writing are wonderful. I will share this with my two friends that are as crazy about Italy as I. As I plan on making Sulmona home in two years, I plan to delve thru your entire blog this weekend!

    • Jed April 19, 2017 at 4:48 pm - Reply

      Thanks Eloise. I’m glad you found the blog (thank you Novelia!) and are liking it! As you delve into the blog, don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have questions! Jed

  8. David collins April 19, 2017 at 2:18 am - Reply

    Beautiful post Jed. We really hope to make it to Sulmona next Easter and experience this wonderful event.

    • Jed April 19, 2017 at 10:51 am - Reply

      Miss you guys! Wish we could’ve experienced the event together!

  9. Susan April 18, 2017 at 10:55 pm - Reply

    So true, what Novelia said… though I’ve wanted to visit Sulmona since your very first post on her beloved town, Jed dear. Their Easter celebration is now yet further enticement. Thank you for your magical rendition.

    • Jed April 19, 2017 at 10:54 am - Reply

      Grazie dear friend! Maybe one of these days we can indeed do this together, along with Simone. Imagine!

  10. elizabeth wholey April 18, 2017 at 7:56 pm - Reply

    Wonderful post and great photos Jed. How fortunate for you, Sulmona and this family that you have connected.

    • Jed April 19, 2017 at 10:52 am - Reply

      Grazie Elizabeth! Like meeting you many years ago, I’ve been blessed to have such wonderful people placed in my path here in Italy!

  11. Linda Dini Jenkins April 18, 2017 at 4:18 pm - Reply

    Thanks, Jed! Our friends Louis and Vicky were there this year, but Tim and I were holding down the fort here in Salem, MA. The photos are magnificent (I’m not surprised) and the text captures the essence of the event — both its solemnity and its joy. I was happy to be able to follow “live” on Onda-TV this year, but look forward to the time when I can be there in person. Novelia’s really captured our hearts, eh?

    • Jed April 18, 2017 at 5:07 pm - Reply

      Yes, I was so happy to meet Louis and Vicky, and to have Easter lunch with them at Novelia’s and Peppe’s. They’re wonderful people and I hope to see you all again soon! Glad you liked the article.

  12. Susan P April 18, 2017 at 4:02 pm - Reply

    In this time of political despair, thank you for showing us hope, light and faith. Through your photographs and words you remind us to focus as St. Francis taught.

    • Jed April 18, 2017 at 5:06 pm - Reply

      Thanks Susan! Let’s all keep the faith! Miss you and Gary!

  13. Marguerite April 18, 2017 at 1:52 pm - Reply

    Thanks for your wonderful explanation that does indeed capture the emotion of this event. I had seen videos but didn’t fully understand the context with the procession on Friday. Now it’s all clear. I have visited Sulmona and know the immensity of that square. It must indeed be powerful and emotional to be there in person.

    • Jed April 18, 2017 at 2:43 pm - Reply

      Thanks Marguerite! I’m glad the post helped provide more context – though I probably still have a lot to learn about the nuances of an event so steeped in tradition!

  14. Nancy April 18, 2017 at 12:29 pm - Reply

    Lovely post Jed. I actually was moved to tears. Evocative…

    • Jed April 18, 2017 at 2:44 pm - Reply

      Grazie Nancy. At times, I felt the emotion welling up in my throat, and when the mad dash ensued, and the crowd erupted, I too had tears in my eyes.

  15. Novelia April 18, 2017 at 11:57 am - Reply

    Ciao mio fratello. with your enthusiasm and love for Sulmona and Abruzzo have become yourself THE AMBASSADOR . You have done an amazing work because with your sensibility have felt from the first moment how deep and emotional this.event is not only for the people of Sulmona but of the whole country. With your photos and what you wrote I am sure your renders will want to come and experience themselves the EASTER CELEBRATIONS in Sulmona. Thank you for your passion towards this still unknown to most part of Italy. We miss you, and hope to see you again really soon, A big embrace Novelia Peppe Andrea

    • Jed April 18, 2017 at 2:45 pm - Reply

      My dear Novelia, YOU have made it all happen. Thanks for drawing me to Novelia and making me part of your family!

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