The Kiss of the Christs in GavinanaLocal Traditions
The Kiss of the Christs in Gavinana
It is a very ancient but still popular rite. Two large processions that meet up with a Christ on the cross in front of each one: the heads of the two processions approach and the bearers of the two crosses have the two Christs touch each other for a solemn kiss. This takes place every year on the Feast of the Ascension (second half of May), in Gavinana, a small medieval village at 820 m above sea level on the foothills of Mount Crocicchio, in the green Mountains of Pistoia.
The origins of this religious act go back a long time: in the past, the two processions departed from the town of St Marcello and Gavinana to then meet up near the second village. The Risorgimento writer and thinker Francesco Domenico Guerrazzi, wrote of this rite in his book 'The Siege of Florence', which he published - under the false name of Anselmo Gualandi - in Paris in 1836.
To understand Guerrazzi we must however take a big step back. Let us go back to 16 May 1527 when, in revolt against the papacy who ruled Florence and Tuscany on behalf of the Medici, the third Republic of Florence was established in Florence. It is a story of long-standing factions, with its roots in the conflict between the Guelphs and Ghibellines in the 13th century: but now, however, the Republicans are revolting against the papacy and the King supporters.
Likewise in the rest of Tuscany, the lands of Pistoia were also divided between these two factions: Gavinana was Republican unlike the nearby town of St Marcello.
The third Republic of Florence, however, ended in Gavinana, on August 3, 1530, in an epic battle in which the Florentine troops of Francesco Ferrucci were defeated by the imperial troops of Charles V. The two towns of St Marcello and Gavinana were on opposite fronts. The former was sacked with the arrival on the mountain of the Florentine army, whilst the latter suffered a worst fate when Ferrucci surrended.
Florence returned to the Medici, but the wounds were still open up on the mountain, in fact Guerrazzi wrote: "... We must mourn the battle of Gavinana not as a misfortune, but also as a patricide ... Discord travelled fast ... in expiation of the old crimes once every year on the Ascension feast, the mountains of Gavinana resound with mournful songs: two processions set off, one from St Marcello, the other from Gavinana towards the Gorghi Springs. When they meet up the songs are renewed higher, pennants are matched and the crucifixes are banged together, and this is called the kiss of the Christs…”.
The Kiss of the Christs is therefore the act of peacemaking between the two villages of St Marcello and Gavinana, a gesture of peace and coexistence created in memory of that great divide, a gesture that has lasted for centuries, a real piece of Tuscany.
It is a rite that today has changed beyond its religiosity, and has also become a representation of the past. People also call it 'procession to the Mount' because nowadays the parades both start at the Parish church of St Maria Assunta in the square of Gavinana. The first sets off after noon, turning towards the Mount. After ascending it, it goes through the village and after more than five hours arrives in Gavinana at the Gorghi Springs. The second departs in the late afternoon and covers the short distance to Gorghi: here is the encounter, the Ascension, and the rite of peace is fulfilled.
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