Behind the Scenes – Dressing the Statue

Preparing the Statue in Pietrelcina

It is the Friday evening at the start of the Festa of Madona Del Libero in August in the town of Pietrelcina.

Outside there is a concert going on in the Piazza Maria SS Annunciata. Inside the Parish Church of Our Lady of the Angels, where St. Padre Pio said his first mass, there are people quietly watching a quite different event. 

The main doors of the church were quietly closed but those already inside were welcomed to stay and watch. 

It was August 2013 and I was happy to record the event.

Here is what I filmed

Festa Procession

Statue-Procession in Pietrelcina

There are several feasts celebrated with special events and processions throughout the year.

16-17 January: The first is in January and is celebrated in towns all over Italy. It is the feast of St. Anthony of Egypt who was an early mystic who was said to be ‘On Fire’ with the love of God.

St Anthony's FireTo commemorate him, the locals here build bonfires in several areas across the town. Neighbours group together and prepare delicious finger foods – sausages, vegetables, packets of small seafood etc etc. It really is a wonderful mix of fun and food all wrapped up in a community spirit. A great way to get to know people.

May 25th: the birthday of Padre Pio and is celebrated in different ways each year. His actual feast day is later in the year.

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Night time inside churchFirst Week of August : The Main Festa, when the town is transformed into a local centre of pilgrimage and is accompanied by non-stop events, is to honour Our Lady of Liberty who is the patron and protector of the town.

This devotion goes back 1,400 years to the time of St. Barbatus of Benevento when the town and the whole region was saved from certain domination by an invading army. This is not the only feast  Our Lady of Liberty.  There is yet another one in December to mark the sudden deliverance from a deadly epidemic in 1854. Padre Pio gave great importance to the 5th December feast and, of course, so do the residents of Pietrelcina.

The summer Festa is celebrated with great devotion and allows the residents, past and present, to organize outdoor events which continue from the Friday night, through the weekend and ends with a procession through the entire town on Sunday evening. Over the years, intercession to Our Lady of Liberty has resulted in many favours and miracles from God and people naturally want to honour their intercessor.

Thanksgiving gifts in PietrelcinaMany gold objects, medallions, watches, rings, bracelets, necklaces, have been donated to deck the statue on its processional journey. These are pinned onto a velvet garment that is draped around the statue on the Friday night. In 2013, we managed to go behind the scenes to film the procedure.

This event is not normally seen by everyone who come to join the Festa. The dressing begins around midnight inside the darkened Parish church of Our Lady of the Angels, while outside in the square, the dancing and singing was coming to an end. This yearly procedure of the ‘dressing of the statue’ is worth watching.

Night time inside churchThe church remains open from early morning to late at night for the next three days and whilst the entertainment is going on in the square outside, many people sit quietly praying in the candle lit church.

The last event of the Festa happens on Sunday evening after 6 o’clock mass. The statue of Our Lady of Liberty is taken down from above the main altar and brought out to be carried through the streets of the town in a faithful re-enactment of the time in 1854, when they carried it through the town as an act of faith that God would stop the dying of people caused by an epidemic. It did.

Starting from the Parish Church of Our Lady of the Angels it first goes through the Castello region then on through the Riella. The first pictures of the procession show it coming up Via Riella on its way up and across the square and on to the newer part of the town. From there it travels back down past the hotel Lombardi Park and turns into Via Cappucini and stops at the Cappuchin Friary Church (Holy Family Church). At this point, it stops for some time while for a very impressive fireworks display.

It moves again along the main street before turning down Via Roma, making a u-turn to continue around the bottom end of the town. Finally, it passes through all the stalls set up on both sides of Corso Padre Pio and arrives back at the piazza and the Parish Church of Our Lady of the Angels.