The Past ‘Interpreter’

Historical Stratifications in the Ritual Symbolism of Saint Joseph Festivals and Holy Week in Sicily

  • Ignazio E. Buttitta (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


The themes of cultural continuity and ‘survival’ of ritual symbolism have been at the centre of

debate in the anthropological and historical religious fields. They became topical again in relation

to the issue of the patrimonialization of ‘traditional’ religious festivals such as Saint Joseph and

Holy Week, festivals whose ritual symbolism (sacred banquet, procession, evergreen branches,

ritual breads, songs and dances) shows an evident pre-Christian and agrarian root. A number of

questions emerge about both the usefulness of historical sources (archaeological and documentary)

with regard to the understanding of contemporary ritual reality, and about the issue of the chrono-

logical continuity of practices and beliefs; these deserve to be reconsidered on the basis of renewed

research and observations, considering the dissolution of what has been defined as ‘rural civilization’

and the renewed interests towards immaterial patrimony by communities searching for their identity

matrices. We can and must go back to asking ourselves: can material and immaterial tokens of the

past, even the remotest ones, help us understand what we observe in current festive contexts?