La Palombella

June 7, 2010 / Events
Orvieto, Umbria

Celebrated in Piazza del Duomo at noon on the day of Pentecost, the 50th day following Easter, the feast of the Palombella commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Madonna and the apostles in the cenacle. This secular tradition has been celebrated annually here since the end of the fourteenth century.

The Palombella was originally held inside the Cathedral until the Lateran Roman Council forbade the use of fireworks inside churches and places of worship, and the ceremony was transferred to the piazza outside the Duomo in 1846. A tabernacle in Gothic style with the figures of Mary and the Apostles was placed on the steps in front of the central portal of the Duomo, representing the cenacle.

palombella2At 12 p.m. the Bishop of Orvieto waves a piece of white linen from his palace in front of the Cathedral. At this sign, the Master Mason lights torches placed around a sound proof cage that protects a dove from the noise of the fireworks and is tied with red ribbons. This cage slides rapidly along a wire toward the Cenacle erected in front of the main door of the Cathedral.

When the dove arrives at the Cenacle, a round of fireworks explodes and the red flames, of which the Scriptures speak, light up on the heads of the Madonna and the Apostles. People draw good or bad omens for the agricultural year from the outcome of the ceremony…and, according to the ancient tradition, the Bishop gives the dove to the latest bride in the town as a sign of peace and fertility.



Evanne Brandon-Diner

by Evanne Brandon-Diner

Chronicler of local village life in Northern Lazio, and property restoration and purchasing consultant.

5 Responses to “La Palombella”

  1. This reminds me of a story my mother told me of when she was young – they would send two young girls dressed as angels, holding doves across a line like this from either end and when they met in the middle they would release the doves. I don’t know what the festival was but the church was St. Fortunata and most of the people in the neighborhood were from the small town of Baucina, in the province of Palermo, Sicily!

  2. Over the years, while travelling between Rome and sites north, I pass Orvieto. Every time, I say to myself “I need to visit”. The view from the autostrada just calls out. I finally have and it is now one of my favorite Italian cities. I need to return to Orvieto. NOW!

  3. Connie

    As I read this entry in the US looking forward to a two week visit to Italy next week I realize how little ritual we have in this country, at least nothing to match the beloved rituals in Italia! We Americans could do well to take a lesson from the beauty and tradition of these lovely events!


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