Measured footsteps, martial almost, break the solemn silence, fragile flickering flames seem to hover in the air in an orderly sequence, breaking the black of the night. In the dim light of torches and lanterns, we hear the approach of the long succession of “the hooded”, seemingly appearing from some well-concealed hiding place, each bearing a symbol of the torment of the Passion of Christ, turned Man to redeem humanity from the original sin. In the distance the echo of a chant, a lamented prayer for atonement. Between the two densely packed sidelines of onlookers, in which all the moving sentiment and human mercy prevails, winds the hooded procession of Good Friday, the day of God’s supreme sacrifice to save man. It is in this way that the ancient ritual has been continued for centuries, in the same streets of Sorrento; an expression of suffering at one with the religious faith, anchored to a tradition handed down from father to son, generation after generation. The successor to similar penitential rituals recorded as far back as the 1200s, is the hooded procession of today, or rather processions as two are held in Sorrento: one at dawn on Good Friday and the other that evening, organised by two different local brotherhoods, Santa Monica and the Archbrotherhood della Morte (or Dei Servi di Maria), the successor to the more ancient brotherhood of San Catello, which express the deep rooted faith of the local people, and which make participation in the processions a time of manifestation of personal worship, a continuity of ancestral values and a human, earthly expression of its own version of religious faith. The emotion these processions are capable of transmitting is indescribable, as it would be necessary to penetrate deep into their very essence, to participate in the culture they have generated in order to capture their real meaning. To a distracted spectator it could seem to be an offshoot of a folklore event. But that isn’t the case. In effect it is a time of varied, complex Catholic liturgy that is also expressed in these external forms which, in our day, could be interpreted wrongly. The Good Friday Processions now, organised in the same way as their Mediaeval predecessors, continue the tradition - brought from Spain to Southern Italy in the 16th century by the Jesuits, from which come the “mystères” used in the former processions. This is why we see the symbols of the Passion pass before us, in perfect order, interspersed with lanterns and torches: the sack with 30 pieces of silver, the price of Judas’ betrayal; the crown of thorns with which Christ was crowned in scorn; the cock to recall Jesus’ words to Peter “this very night, before a cock crows, you shall deny Me three times”, and so it was. The ear is that severed from the servant of the High Priest, Caiaphas, when Jesus was captured in Gethsemane; the nails, hammer and pincers used for the Crucifixion; the sponge soaked in vinegar derogatorily used to dampen the lips of Christ, dehydrated on the Cross; the lance that injured His rib; the dice thrown by the Roman soldiers to decide who won the robe, this also included among the “mystères”. Then there are many wooden crosses, symbol of extreme martyrdom; the veil with the effigy of Veronica. The long procession is completed by the standard of the brotherhood tha organised it, by a bare cross and by other “mystères” such as the bowl of water and the cloth used by Pontius Pilate to “wash his hands of the decision” on Christ’s trial, confirming he was incapable of judging. Then we come to the very heart of the procession that summarises its essence: the so-human sorrow of a mother hunting everywhere for her lost son. The statue of the Madonna, dressed in mourning and closed in on herself with sorrow, bearing an immaculate white handkerchief to dry the tears of her unutterable suffering, is carried at shoulder height. Echoing the pain are the lacerating expressions of the “Miserere” choir, that repeat the words of the psalmist that calls for pardon and redemption from sin. Unlike the bearers of the “mystères” or torches that are all hooded and robed to the point of being unrecognisable, because the act of penitence ‘knows no face or personal ostentation’, the upturned faces of all the 200-strong choir are uncovered so that their imploring cries are amplified, these being the symbol of humanity hoping for pardon for their sins. The hooded procession that follows the streets by night between Maundy Thursday and Good Friday is all in white, the colour that best suits the auroral atmosphere of the dawn of the new day. The evening procession, on the other hand, are all “robed” in black so as to be concealed by the shadows of the night. The fascination of both processions touch even the most private or forgotten emotions of spectators that gather on the pavements, mute in their silent acceptance. Even for onlookers this is a time of meditation and not mere observation. But the emotion peaks in the evening procession as the statue of Christ Dead passes before our eyes. An ancient, much-venerated work in wood from the 7th century, it precedes the statue of Our Lady of Sorrows who, unlike that morning, no longer seeks her Son, but is resigned to following his lifeless body. His face bears all the signs of His suffering, but also the resignation of who, in death, has fulfilled the mission assigned to Him by His Father: redeeming man from the original sin. In this eloquent manner of such immediate impact the procession fixes in us the crudeness of its symbols, those at the very heart of Christian mysticism: the God made Man who sacrifices himself to free all of humanity from the original sin through a freely given gift of Love.