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Exploring Sicily’s “Arches of Bread” tradition

Arches of Bread, Easter Celebration, Sicily, 2

Eduardo Cicala

V. M. Traverso - published on 04/08/23

Every Easter, a small town in Sicily recreates cathedral-like structures, made entirely of bread.

Each part of the Catholic world has a slightly different take on Easter tradition. In Spain, celebrations last for days with dramatic penance processions held by Catholic confraternities during the “Semana Santa” (Holy Week). In Ireland, it was considered good luck to sow grain on Good Friday. Meanwhile, in San Biagio Platani, a village in south west Sicily, people celebrate Easter by creating “Arches of Bread.” 

The “Arches of Bread” are life-size architectural features replicating the town’s cathedral. As the name implies, they are made of a special material: food. Locals take weeks to gather local herbs, cereals, and bread to build the impressive “bread church” that is eventually unveiled during Easter Friday.

The tradition has its roots in the 17th century, when locals used to create impressive displays of local produce when the king, who owned the land farmed by locals, would visit the town. Throughout the centuries this tradition became part of Easter celebrations. Symbolically, the “king” visiting the town during Easter is Christ himself. Today, a document kept in San Biagio’s main church declares that a portion of each year’s harvest should be used for the creation of “arches of bread.” 

It takes weeks to assemble this life-size cathedral made with bread and other foods.

The town of San Biagio is divided into two main confraternities, each taking care of decorating the two main altars of the church. The altar of Mary is curated by the Madunnara confraternity, while the one of Jesus is curated by the Signurara confraternity. During the weeks leading up to Easter, these two confraternities prepare competing Arches of Bread structures. 

The arches, domes, and bell towers are made of barley, legumes, pasta and, of course, bread. Once crafted, they are decorated with elaborate motifs made with citrus fruits, laurel, and flowers. Each “ingredient” takes on a religious significance. For example, bread symbolizes farmers’ hard work, but also the body of Christ. 

On Easter Sunday, the two confraternities march along the towering food sculptures eventually meeting up in front of the main church where Mass is celebrated. During the evening, the Arches of Bread are lit up giving the town a fairytale look. As explained by a blog post, this celebration stands as a powerful symbol of the triumph of life over death. 

Click here for more outstanding photographs of this Sicilian tradition.

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