The Malta Independent 24 October 2020, Saturday

Cospicua’s Good Friday Procession

Malta Independent Saturday, 31 March 2012, 00:00 Last update: about 7 years ago

Franz Hilpold and his wife Elita Maule come every year to Malta to spend their summer holidays here. Since last year, they have decided to include Easter amongst their annual trips, after one of their sons, Markus, fell in love with Cospicua’s Good Friday procession. Next Friday, Good Friday the family will be here in time for Markus to participate in it.

Franz occupies a high position within the Alto Adige educational system. He is the director of a college. A Maths professor by profession, he progressed in his career and now works within the educational system of that part of the world. His wife Elita also works within the education sector. She is a successful professor of music in Italy and considered one of the top professors in the pedagogy of music in Europe. This family is also an expression of Italy’s diverse cultural settings. They live in the Alto Adige, a province in the North of Italy, where two thirds of the population speaks German. In fact, Franz belongs to the Austrian community. He comments: “My mother language is German. Prior to the First World War, this area was Austrian and the people of the area have continued to preserve their ethnic customs. My wife Elita, is Italian, from the Veneto. Our two sons, Matthäus and Markus were brought up in a bilingual and bi-cultural ambience.” But when pressed to express a particular preference, both Franz and his children admit that they consider themselves Austrians living in Italy.

They are regular visitors to Malta and at least once a year without fail they come over to spend some time here. “We have all fallen in love with Malta and cannot even recall how many times we have been here,” says Elita. They thought that once their children would become teenagers, they would have to interrupt their visits to the island as the interest of their kids would be different to theirs. The opposite has happened. “Our two sons,” says Franz, “became so immersed in the island’s culture that they look forward to a stay in Malta. They are fascinated with the island’s popular culture which is very similar but at the same time extremely different from the one in Northern Italy.”

Over these years, they have noticed that Malta has radically changed in every aspect of life. “Its habits and customs have changed,” says Elita. “We do not want to pass value judgments however, one aspect that has survived is a strong sense of authenticity, and this is expressed in particular localities of Malta. One can feel the great community contribution and pride, which then is expressed by a collective commitment towards particular religious manifestations.”

In recent years, they discovered Cospicua. They had visited this area before, but last year, they had a totally different experience: their thirteen-year-old, Markus, expressed a wish to participate in the Good Friday procession. As we know most Good Friday processions are impressive and often leave a deep impression especially on foreign visitors. They are a tour de force of biblical stories but each procession has its distinctive mark. They found the procession in Cospicua particularly authentic. “The biblical costumes are faithful to history but at the same time it is free from any form of kitsch,” says Franz. “Kitsch is slowly entering into the local Good Friday processions. The American film industry is leaving its mark on them too.”

What impressed them most about Cospicua is the fact that the whole city is turned into an extraordinary stage and that the Good Friday procession has a sequel: the procession on Easter Sunday. “The whole community is out in the streets, in a cheerful mode. The contrast is so marked. From the solemn procession of Friday to the festive mode of Easter Sunday. Says Elita: “It is such an intangible heritage, which can only be created through the reliving of it year after year. It is because of this that Cospicua has such important Good Friday festivities. We understand why last year, this procession was featured by the BBC in their world news programme which was about how Christians, world wide, celebrate Easter.”

So Markus expressed a wish to participate in this procession they had discovered and so admired. Through a friend of theirs, they approached the organizers and found them extremely helpful, friendly and professional. They were given the opportunity to visit the hall, next to the parish church, where all the Good Friday organization takes place. They found everyone bubbling with enthusiasm. Franz comments: “It appeared like the backstage of La Scala before the performance of an opera. All the costumes were hanging on the walls. The fake beards, wigs and all other type of paraphernalia were on display in an orderly manner. We too were all excited and taken over by the necessary preparations and were keen that Markus be dressed in the correct attire.”

When the day arrived, they were impressed with the extraordinary organization and work that organising such a procession involves. Everything worked smoothly and according to plan. It seems as if there was a hidden hand pulling strings from behind the scenes, they commented.

Markus felt very honoured to participate in this procession. He was filled with enthusiasm and felt proud to be among the locals. He took the procession very seriously, keeping a focused expression throughout the whole event.

Before the procession, they had one major concern: They were not sure whether he would feel part of the group. “After all there was a language problem to start off with,” said Franz. But thanks to the easygoing character of the group, he managed very well. Everyone spoke to him in English and although the procession was long it seemed to be over far too quickly.”

Markus was so elated and happy with his experience that he asked his parents to bring him to Malta again in time for this year’s Good Friday procession. “In fact,” Franz comments, “we shall be travelling again to Malta so that Markus can participate once more, wearing a different biblical costume.”

What they find interesting in Malta is the fact that secular and religious values are so intertwined that sometimes it is difficult to decipher the difference between them.

All over Europe, Easter is associated with scholastic holidays. Thanks to Cospicua, this family’s role has changed in the sense that before they were passive visitors, like all tourists, spectators to this religious procession. Now, their younger son has become an actor, a faithful participant of a religious event and therefore at the heart of the local population and its religious culture.

Markus, his parents claim, was brought up in a completely secular culture back home in Alto Adige. His parents are positively astonished how he finds this experience of the Good Friday procession at Cospicua, so enriching both culturally and spiritually.

• I am indebted to Dr Simon Mercieca, Director Mediterranean Institute, for this lead.

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