On 15 May each year, decked with banners and colorful tapestries, Gubbio celebrates its Patron, Saint Ubaldo, with one of the oldest folklore events in Italy: the Race of the Candles.
The relevance of this festival is proven by the official coat of arms of the Umbria region in which they are representing the three stylized Gubbio Ceri.
Since 1160, year of the death of Ubaldo Baldassini, Gubbio commemorated his Bishop with a mystical procession through the streets of the city, bringing in an act of devotion, sticks of wax to the Basilica of Mount Ingino, resting place of the saint.
After a few centuries, the sticks offered by the corporations of Arts and Crafts were replaced by three enormous wooden structures (5 meters x 300 kg) and the tradition has arrived intact to this day. The candles are wooden structures formed by two octagonal prisms, with a shape that resembles an hourglass. To the lower end of these artifacts is fastened a barrow, shaped like an “H”, which allows the transport to the shoulder, and at the top apex they are affixed the statues of the patron saints of the guilds: Ubaldo for bricklayers, St. Giorgio for merchants and Saint Antonio Abate for the farmers.
At prologue of the race, the first Sunday in May, the Candles, guarded all year in the Basilica on top of Mount Ingino, are reported in the city to be re-assembled to the relative Saints figurines, for the upcoming Festival.
Contrary to what you might think, what looks like a frenetic competition has always an order of pre-arrival, overtaking is not admitted and the only aim of the ceraioli (bearers of the candles) is to stand well in the role which it is entrusted to them, thus honoring the celebration of their patron saint.
In fact, it is not easy to carry vertically that huge object in the middle of euphoric crowd and move through the narrow city streets at full speed, with repeated changes in the running. The route covers more than 4 km and ends with the climbing of Mount (average gradient of 15%). At the foot of the Basilica of St. Ubaldo, the candle of the Patron performs the ‘”lowered” to enter the portal before the Cero of St. George and close the door behind him.
The protagonists of the festival are the ceraioli with their white trousers in cotton canvas, the red sash tied at the waist like a belt, red scarf on his shoulders and a different colored shirt according to the candle of belonging (yellow for St. Ubaldo, blue for San Giorgio and black for St. Anthony). Bring the Cero is for a Gubbio’s people deep source of pride. Membership to one or other corporation, which was once linked to the job, is now a family tradition, handed down from father to son.
To live closely the Race of the Candles in Gubbio is preferable to wear comfortable clothes with sneakers, and you should not carry bags and bulky items; have fun and at the same time observe caution in order not to be overwhelmed by the crowd.
It is ideal combine this particular walk in Gubbio with the visit of the other medieval villages neighbors. A farm house in Assisi and at the Subasio Park is a perfect accommodation to enjoy the most typical Umbria.