The gruesome procession of Verbicaro Flagellants

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Verbicaro’s Annual Flagellant Procession: Tradition and Sacrifice

Every year, Verbicaro, a town in Calabria, Italy, hosts a gruesome and deeply traditional procession known for its intensity and unique form of penance.

During the night between Holy Thursday and Good Friday, penitents, fully dressed in red robes with bare feet and legs, participate in a ritual of self-flagellation. They use a piece of cork embedded with five sharp pieces of glass to beat their legs until they bleed. This practice is intended as a form of penance and a profound act of faith.


After the initial act of flagellation, the participants run around the town three times, marking the streets with their blood. This part of the ceremony symbolizes a communal act of suffering and devotion, leaving a physical trace of their penance throughout Verbicaro.

At three in the morning, the main procession begins, known as the Procession of the Mystery of the Passion of Christ. This event features statues and tableaux that depict the Stations of the Cross and the events of the Passion. The combination of visual representations and the physical acts of the flagellants creates a powerful and immersive religious experience for the participants and observers.

Italian flagellants-of-verbicaro

Historical Context of Flagellantism

Flagellants are individuals who engage in a form of severe self-punishment, typically by whipping themselves with various implements. This practice, known as flagellantism, became particularly prominent during the 13th and 14th centuries. It emerged as a significant movement within the Catholic Church during a time of intense religious fervor and crisis, such as during the Black Death.

Initially, flagellantism was practiced by devout members of the Catholic Church seeking atonement for their sins through physical suffering. The concept was rooted in the idea of a militant pilgrimage, where participants would undergo a journey of religious significance, using bodily pain to express their faith and achieve penance.

The movement gained a substantial following, with its most radical practitioners known for incorporating public flagellation into their religious observances. These public ceremonies often involved large groups marching and whipping themselves in unison, creating a dramatic and communal display of penance.

In the small town of Nocera Terinese, situated in the province of Catanzaro, an annual ritual unfolds every Holy Easter – the ceremony of the flagellants. This yearly procession, steeped in ancient traditions, is fundamentally derived from the rite of self-flagellation, a pagan custom rooted in the pursuit of penance and redemption for personal sins.

Church Response and Condemnation

Despite its origins within the Catholic Church, the extreme nature of flagellantism eventually led to its condemnation by church authorities. The Church hierarchy criticized the practice as an excessive and misguided form of penance that went beyond the bounds of orthodox religious conduct. They argued that the flagellants were misinterpreting the concept of atonement and inflicting unnecessary harm upon themselves.

In response, the Catholic Church declared flagellantism heretical. This official condemnation was based on the belief that the flagellants’ actions deviated from established Church doctrine, undermining its authority and misrepresenting its teachings. The movement’s radical practices were seen as a distortion of the true principles of penance and self-sacrifice.

Source: Wikipedia
Video by Calnews


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