Strength and Splendour

Strength and Splendour

Festival of Santa Rosa, Viterbo, Italy
Overall size 10.75 m x 2.32 m

A framed photographic work consisting of 39 images

One large image (4.72 m x 2.03 m) of 6 separately framed images form the main polyptych. These 6 images are photographic silver prints on fibre-based paper.

The other separately framed 33 images forming the complete polyptych are of two sizes: 16 photographic silver prints on fibre paper at 60.5 x 50.5 cm and 17 photographic silver prints on fibre-based paper at 50.5cm x 40.5 cm

Santa Rosa – Viterbo, Lazio, Italy
Every year on 3 September at 9pm for the past 400 years the people of Viterbo celebrate the feast of Santa Rosa.

A mobile monument la macchina (the machine) 30 metres high and 5 tons in weight with spectacular candle lighting effects, is carried through the darkened streets of the city. It is difficult to imagine the scene, considering that the machine has a very special engine. A human one of 150 robust men named facchini (porters) dressed in the traditional red and white uniform. It is equally difficult to describe the journey of this procession which is filled with emotion and pathos and characterises this event.

Saint Rosa is the patron saint of Viterbo. Rosa was born to a humble family in 1233. She was known to perform miracles since she was a child, the best known was when she turned bread into roses. When Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, besieged Viterbo, Rosa urged the population to fight against the heretic Emperor. Later during the domination of Frederick II’s rule she was exiled to Soriano nel Cimino. On returning to her homeland she tried to join a religious order but was rejected. Rosa died in March 1251 and she was buried in Santa Maria in Poggio. In 1258 Pope Alexander IV ordered the exhumation of the body of Rosa. It was perfectly preserved and smelled like roses (this constitutes the mystery of Saint Rosa, after an intricate and intense study of the body which is now naturally mummified and in a perfect state of preservation, specialists had to admit the existence of something which science finds difficult to explain). On 4 September in the same year four Cardinals carried on their shoulders the body of the Saint to the Monastery of San Domiano, since renamed Church of Saint Rosa. This is the origin of the festival of Saint Rosa.

The machine whose etymological meaning is device in a document dating back to the 17th Century is described as a wooden structure illuminated with candles and with a statue of the Saint at the top. The original drawings and models dating from 1690 form one of the main sections in the historical collection of the City Museum of Viterbo. Through the centuries the machine has changed, it has been built larger and heavier until 1986 it was 34 metres high and weighed 6 tons. Due to local town planning regulations it is now restricted to 30 metres in height and 5 tons in weight.

Every year the would-be facchini have to pass a test of strength which consists of a fast walk over 82 metres with 150kilos on their shoulders thus proving their abilities for this Spartan job. The facchini are dressed in white to represent the purity of the Saint and the only colour is their red waist sash in honour of the four cardinals. These local heroes have to cover a route 1200 metres through the centre of Viterbo, from Porta Romana to the final ovation in front of the Sanctuary of Saint Rosa. Each facchino has a very special role to play and position to occupy. To counterbalance the tilt of the macchina up the final slope, a change of position between the tallest and the shortest man is provided.

In April of 1978 the Facchini became a confraternity. Their seat in the medieval quarter of San Pellegrino includes a museum where scale models of past macchinas, photos, ancient prints and historical documents can be viewed.  The tension and anticipation of this rigorous procession is particularly manifest through the comradery and fraternal relationships of the facchini and their support from the devotion to the event of the townspeople of Viterbo.

This event fits well with Masi’s interest in the concept of social power. He is particularly interested in special public events and festivals – those occasions when people gather together to share an experience, which produces a kind of glue or social capital and how this encounter can and is manifest through the photographic portrait. He is also raising questions about the nature of the photographic portrait as a document of this experience.

Exhibition provenance

Hafnarborg Institute of Culture and Fine Art, Hafnarfjorour, Iceland, 2007