Boy, was I right. I picked up Ariela at the bus stop in Umbertide. I had volunteered to drive her as she is exploring fairly rural parts of Umbria and she doesn’t drive. She is a Doctoral Student at John’s Hopkins whose expertise is Medieval religious art. It was already 2:30 so we were off to a late start. Our destination was Mercatello sul Metauro in the Marche region. Umbria abuts this region. I have been through this area once a long time ago on the way back from Udine.
There were two possible routes. The first mistake was trusting Google maps. Google maps said it takes an hour. The shorter, faster route is the one we took. We headed up into the mountains. The road was very small. This was not the one I remembered from before. Eventually we made a left turn onto a strada bianca (white road) which is unpaved. Well, no turning back now so off we went. I asked Ariela how far we were from Mercatello…15 kilometers (!). The going was slow because the road had ruts from the rains. We saw not one single structure on this entire road. I must say the scenery was spectacular. High, rugged mountains with huge bare cliff-faces and deep gorges. I kept praying we wouldn’t get a flat. When we finally turned onto asphalt, I practically knelt and kissed the tarmac.
We entered the little town of Mercatello – population about 1,000. It was mostly churches. There was a cute little bar near where we parked. The town was beautiful.
Ariela had made an appointment with Don Fabio the Priest at the Chiesa di Santa Maria. It is a small church, there is a painting there that the building was built to house. It was built in the 1400s. The reason Ariela wanted to come was a crucifix with movable limbs and covered in skin. It was made in the 1500s. She wanted to see it. I was intrigued. She said it was one of very few examples in Italy. There are many articulated crucifixes but few are covered in skin.
I tried to research it and found it difficult to find a lot of information. The purpose of these articulated Christs is that they are used in recreations of Jesus’ life on holy days and the Christ manikin stands in as the real Jesus. They are still used today. The crucifixion is realized with the statue of Jesus with the articulated arms. I even read this bit online.
…the hair on the statue of Jesus is laid down by girls after their first menstruation. The images are treated as living people and create the fusion of the statues with the characters in flesh and blood; this fusion between reality and the appearance of being real makes humans and statues protagonists of the scenes in which one and the other, indiscriminately, seem to belong to the same mystical dimension…
So the people worshiping in the procession actually believe this IS Jesus. This seems to happen more in the southern parts of Italy. Although we have processions in Umbertide it isn’t to this degree. Anyway, I took some pictures. First the church.
The covering on the figure is very flexible. It is said to be human skin that was tanned and that is came from a Turk. The man who was showing us the figure picked up and bent the limbs so we could see. One other interesting fact, no one knows what is inside of the figure. How it is constructed etc.
Ariela was thrilled. She lives and breathes this stuff. It is her life. She will be writing her thesis on this. I had to pry her out of there. 😁 We returned on the good road. It was just as I remembered. Well paved and extremely curvy. It goes through the very high mountains between Le Marche and Umbria.
So that was my excellent adventure. It is amazing the treasures Italy has hidden away.