It’s Good Friday: Do You Know Where Your Sepulchres Are?

On Holy Thursday and Good Friday in Italy, it is tradition to visit the Holy Sepulchre of Jesus, but not just one… many! Usually, the magic number is seven – but as any old Italian lady will tell you, as long as it’s an odd number, you’re OK. (Yes, there’s a veneer of pagan superstition to these Roman Catholic customs!)

People make mini-pilgrimages (usually in their home city) to many churches to pray or light a candle in front of the sepulchres that have been laid out to remember and commemorate the death (and imminent resurrection) of Jesus. Today in my home town of Genoa, I managed to visit 9 churches (yay! an odd number!) of which 5 had sepulchres (still an odd number! My lucky day!)

Several symbols are associated with the layout of the sepulchre (also known as the alter of repose): flowers, wheat (to represent bread, nourishment both spiritual and physical, and the body of Christ) and grapes (to represent wine, the blood of Jesus, and to quench the thirst of the faithful). Let’s not forget how important wine is in the Roman Catholic rite!


So I started out at my home parish, Santa Maria del Carmine, a.k.a. Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The beautiful interior featured the sepulchre in one of the chapels on the left hand side.

The flowers, bread, and wine were all there, including a little wooden sculpture to the lefthand side where Jesus saves the fishermen, his disciples, even though the sea was tossing and there was a furious storm. Love that story!

I stopped in at the Basilica della Santissima Annunziata (Basilica of the Most Holy Annunciation), but there was no sepulchre, or at least I couldn’t find it.

This magnificen basilica is in the area of the university

Then it was on to San Filippo Neri. Beautiful sepulchre here:

Love the wheat sprouts!

Just around the corner, in medieval alley-terms, is yet another basilica, the impressive Church of San Siro. Here there was a small but lovely sepulchre.

I was rather amazed at the amount of foot traffic, and the many pilgrims who were traipsing from church to church, just as I was.  Heading up Via San Luca, I stopped into the tiny Church of San Luca, almost the size of a private chapel. But no sepulchre in sight!

The majestic altar of San Luca, Genova

Heading toward Piazza Banchi, I climbed the steps to the Church of San Pietro in Banchi: no sepulchre!

Believe it or not, there are stores on the ground floor of the church!

Once out of the tiny medieval streets, I headed up Via San Lorenzo to the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, but celebrations for the high holy day of Good Friday had begun. Could catch no glimps of the sepulchre!



The side door was even closed. Security was tight today, as Genoa’s Cardinal Bagnasco was on the altar for the celebration of the Passion of Christ.


After all this Baroque, I wanted something simpler, like the Romanesque Church of San Donato, which had a fabulous sepulchre:

My last church for the day is one of my favorites in Genoa: the Chiesa del Gesù, run by the Jesuit order. The sepulchre looked like something out of the Rose Bowl:


This church has two paintings by Rubens, and one by Guido Reni, and is a must-see on any trip to Genova. Located next to Palazzo Ducale, it is easy to duck in and be amazed.

The Rubens altarpiece in Chiesa del Gesù, the Circumcision of Christ

Exhausted but content, it is time to wait for Easter Sunday. Italy is closing down for a few days.

Coming soon: Vinitaly 2017, the final analysis.

Buona Pasqua!


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