3 September: St. Rose

On 3 September was one of the great events of the year in all of Italy, the feast of St. Rose of Viterbo and the carrying of the macchina of Santa Rosa through the narrow streets of the medieval city. This is a centuries old tradition and truly impressive. I have been to Viterbo for this in years past, but missed it this year. It is even televised live in Italy on Telepace.  The procession with the huge macchina goes back at least to 1657 when the patroness of the city saved Viterbo from a plague.  There was an older tradition of a procession in honor of the translation of the relics of St. Rose in 1258 by Pope Alexander IV.

The macchina is shaped like a brightly illuminated tower 28 meters in height and weighing around 11000 pounds (50 quintali). The bearers of the macchina or facchini, about 100 in number, have to pass a difficult test to belong to the fraternity, who are called also Knights of St. Rose. They must carry a large box containing 150kg of metal balls that roll around inside. They dress in white with a white bandana with a red sash to recall the cardinals who bore a smaller macchina the first time. Families have a tradition of having members of this esteemed fraternity.

On the night they carry the macchina they meet the bishop, who gives them a blessing in periculo mortis. They must them carry the macchina through the dangerously narrows and sometimes steep cobblestone streets, making stations along the way, where they rest for a few minutes and eat something. Huge drums are beaten, producing a thundrous sound and as they move, the ground shakes. When the macchina is moving and swaying through the city you can catch glimpses of it above the roof tops, like a bright giant. They carry the macchina from the Basilica of Saint Sixtus to the Basilca of St. Rose. In the past, there have been accidents. In fact, the procession with the macchina was suspended for a while when the macchina fell, but Pope Pius VII started it back up again in 1815.

A new macchina is built, in general, every five years.


St. Rose was a very interesting saint.  She was born in Viterbo in 1233.  When young, she was cured of a deadly illness through a miracle and, afterwards, went about the city preaching and working miracles.  Her messages and fervor freaked out the ruler of the city, who exiled her.   In exile, she predicted the death of the Emperor Fredrick II.  Her exile lasted only a few days: Fredrick died and she came home.  She tried constantly to enter the convent of San Damiano, with no success.  She died in 1252.  Sometime later, her body was discovered to be incorrupt and it was translated, as mentioned above, by the Pope with four cardinals carrying the bier.  To the Basilica now named after her. 

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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