Modica is a Baroque town perched in the mountains of southern Sicily, an island just off the tip of the Italian mainland. With over one hundred churches, it is the site of one of Sicily’s most beloved Easter traditions.
The Spanish, before there was a unified Spain and therefore starting with the Kingdom of Aragon, occupied Sicily for approximately 500 years. When Modica was destroyed by an earthquake in 1693, it enabled Spanish nobility to rebuild it entirely in the (at that time) new Baroque style. This has made Modica one of the most beautiful cities in Italy.
Architecture was not the only thing the Spaniards left behind. They brought recently discovered chocolate from the new world and many of their religious traditions. To this day, Modica is a renowned center of chocolate production, somewhat in the style of the Aztecs — the chocolate is richer, intense, and a bit grainy. One bite sends a pleasant buzz through your system equivalent to a jolt of dark espresso.
One of the loveliest things they left behind was the “Easter Kiss.” Based on the vision of St. Pseudo Bonaventure and his Meditations of the Life of Christ, it recounts the meeting of the newly risen Christ and his mother, the Virgin Mary. This meeting accounts for an odd discrepancy in the Bible — namely, why was Christ’s mother not at the tomb the next morning with the other women who found His body gone? The answer: she had no need to because she had already met her risen Son.
As with all things, the Sicilian flare for the dramatic is phenomenal. So in Modica on Easter morning, a procession of people line up behind the band — for every festival there is almost always a procession with a band — to follow the figure of Christ. The figure is huge and it is not alone. Coming from the other side of the town is a huge marionette representing the Virgin Mary.
Mary wanders the streets, searching, hoping, but in deep mourning. The pain of a mother who has lost a son is too well-known by the Sicilian people. She is on the way to the tomb, but she knows in her heart He will not be there. So she seeks with the blind faith God seeks in us. Then, at the center of the town, amid a panoply of fireworks, TV crews, people on balconies and rooftops, and shoulder to shoulder in the street, the two figures meet.
As Mary spots her Son, her black garb of mourning is flung off. Doves fly up into the air, and she is adorned in a red, gold-embroidered gown, over which billows her veil of intense blue. She is joy personified.
The two figures meet and exchange a maternal kiss as they embrace. Collectively, the crowd sighs and joyful tears are shed. One Son has been saved among all that Sicily has lost. This affirmation of the Risen Christ means that all the rest, and we, too, will be saved as well.
The video attached cannot do the event justice. This is more than a group of people parading in their Easter best, more than the fireworks, the procession, the flag throwers, or any small part of it. Most of the event is waiting — waiting for two figures to symbolically kiss. Waiting for the marionette to fling her arms wide in benediction and then to bring her hands together reminding us she prays for us sinners.
No, the import of the event is the communal sharing of the day. The ability of everyone in the crowd to allow themselves to feel entirely the import of the blessed moment. It is about being vulnerable and joyful and together in one spirit. It is like hearing the best song in a packed arena, the most magnificent symphony in a concert hall — no recording can ever match that experience. Instead, in person, everything is amplified by the electrical current which connects you to everyone who hears and feels the way you do at that exact moment in time.
This year, we cannot have that moment in church, so I hope this little video brings a bit of Easter spirit your way.
Wishing you lovely virtual chocolate bunnies and virtual Easter kisses of your own.
Hugs, Diana Belchase