On Pentecostal Sunday (May 20) this year, as it has each year since the 15th century, our beautiful “home” city of Orvieto celebrates the amazing festival of the Palombella.
A hapless white dove, as the symbol of the Holy Sprit, is placed in a cage, mounted on a high wire at the Church of San Francesco. At 12 noon, as the Bishop waves a white handkerchief, the cage is launched forward and slides along the wire, down Via Maitani, to the wondrous “baldaquin” erected on the steps of the Cathedral and decorated with branches and leaves.
Accompanied by very loud bell-ringing, as the dove finally arrives at the baldaquin, fireworks explode around it in a great cacophony of fire, smoke and sound.
The valets (dressed in 18th century liveries and wigs) climb the ladder to retrieve the dove. Then, escorted by the drummers (!) the dove is taken inside, checked (to see if it has survived) and is ceremoniously handed over to the most recently married couple who are entrusted to care for it from then on.
Superstition still surrounds the whole event as, if the passage of the dove along the wire were to be interrupted, it would not bode well for the coming year.
Unlikely as that is now as it slides along a steel wire, in the past, sliding smoothly on the long distance on a rope was never a given.
The festival of La Palombella is surrounded with the most magnificent of processions through the streets of the ancient town, displaying the most beautiful medieval costumes, from official dress to military and simply stunning women’s clothing, all worn with great and justified pride by the local citizens.