The Festa dei Ceri takes place every year on May 15th in Gubbio, at the eve of St Ubaldo’s day, patron saint of the city.
However, the word ceri (meaning “candle”) doesn’t really describe these three giant wooden pillars with an octagonal base and richly decorated, weighing around 400 kg each. On the top of each cero stands a small statue of its own patron saint, namely St Ubaldo (patron saint of masons), St Giorgio (patron saint of merchants) and St Antonio (patron saint of farmers).
The name Ceri probably derives from the votive candles offered to the saints by the Corporations of Arts and Crafts since May 16th 1160, the day that the beloved bishop of Gubbio, Ubaldo, died. The candles grew bigger and bigger over the years and therefore they were swapped with three wooden pillars around the end of the 16th century.
The Race of the Ceri begins at noon in Piazza Grande with the spectacular Alzata, the moment when the Ceri are raised by the ceraioli (the runners carrying the Ceri on their shoulders). After running three times around the square, the majestic parade runs along the streets and alleys of the city up to Via Savelli, when they finally rest until the beginning of the second leg of the race.
In the afternoon, the statue of St Ubaldo leaves from Gubbio’s cathedral and reaches Via Dante, followed by a cheering procession. Here the bishop of Gubbio blesses the three Ceri and the frenzied race finally begins.
The pillars run in the main streets of Gubbio, then go back to Piazza Grande where they run again in circles for three times, doing the so-called birate, then they pass under Porta di Sant’Ubaldo (St Ubaldo’s Gate) and finally start climbing on Mount Ingino. At the top of the mountain stands the church of St Ubaldo, where the Ceri are kept during the year, while the statues of the three Saints are brought back to the town, among people cheering them and chanting all day long.