Art & Culture

From darkness to dawn. The spiritual pilgrimage of the Immaculate Conception in Catara

It is one of the most heartfelt and participated celebrations by the entire fishing village. A celebration of shadows and lights that leads from night to day under the banner, also of conviviality.

By Anna Volpicelli, photo courtesy of Giuseppe Liguori

From darkness to dawn. This passage symbolizes the pilgrimage of the Immaculate Conception of Cetara. A nocturnal celebration occurs between the night of December 7 and the morning of December 8 and involves all the inhabitants: from children to the elderly. 

Lights and silences

“That of the Immaculate Conception is one of the most important spiritual celebrations for all of Cetara, together with that of St. Peter, the patron saint, which takes place in the summer. It involves all the inhabitants and even Cetaresians who live outside, return to the village precisely for this festival,” explains Giuseppe Liguori, 56, an architect from Cetara. The streets of the fishing village are highlighted with torches and candles placed outside the houses, on the roads, and on the hills surrounding the town. “It’s a sacred parade that has always been done at night. Some songs quote, ‘of the dawn you rise beautiful,’ which means that the Madonna, for us Christians, should be the beginning of a new era just as the dawn is the beginning of the new day. A transition from darkness to the light of redemption brought by Jesus Christ began precisely with Our Lady. Therefore, participating in the pilgrimage go from the darkness to the light of the dawn.” 

People waiting on the street

With friends

As time has passed, the anticipation of the feast has become one of the crucial moments. “In the evening,” says the architect, “we gather with friends to have dinner. It is an important time of conviviality when young adults also get together to cook and consume typical dishes, especially seafood, as our culinary tradition commands. It is a time of togetherness, bonding, and sharing, which, unlike other typical Christmas celebrations, is spent with friends.” So the table is filled with spaghetti with anchovy colatura, salt cod, fried fish, and typical desserts of the period including zeppole “cresciute, roccocò, mostaccioli. All paired with lambiccato wine and dried fruit. 

The pilgrimage

And as the night draws to a close, the moving contemplation begins. The sacred parade takes place from 5 to 7 a.m. It starts at the Church of St. Francis, where the statute of the Madonna is kept. Young people dressed in white carry the statue through the streets of Cetara, accompanied by the melody of devotional songs. At one time, this procession was followed and carried by only the town men who, after the parade, continued to the marina to go fishing. “This was also because women were probably somehow forbidden to go out at night. It is no longer the case today. The pilgrimage sees the active participation of young girls and women, although the male presence is essential to the execution of the whole thing.” 

A moment of the sacred parade

Dawn Mass

Once through the village streets, the pilgrims who follow in Our Lady’s footsteps make their way to the Church of St. Mary of Constantinople and then go down into the village to St. Peter’s Church to participate in the dawn mass. “All this takes place in the night. At the end of the holy mass, it is already daylight. And once they leave the church of St. Peter, the statue is transported back to the church of St. Francis where it is laid.”

Breakfast together

The end of the pilgrimage leads to another intimate moment of conviviality. “On the morning of December 8, tradition dictates that a cup of hot chocolate is prepared and consumed in all homes. A ritual that, if in the past, was somehow placed in a family context. Over the years, the pastors have brought this ritual to the square of St. Francis, where after the sacred parade is over, they distribute hot chocolate along with a croissant to all participants.” And as the sun begins to warm the village of Cetara, silence reigns among the streets. Each participant returns to their home to rest and welcome within themselves the aurora experienced during the sacred celebration. 

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