La Macchina di Santa Rosa

October 24, 2012 / Events
Viterbo, Lazio
La macchina di Santa Rosa is not the “car” of Santa Rosa, nor of anyone else for that matter: it’s not even a car… but a wondrous “construction”. Imagine a curvaceous steel, aluminum, fibre glass tower of gold, silver, greens and ochre, nearly 30 meters tall, weighing around 5 tons, illuminated with 1200 lights decorated with 900 handmade textile roses, with 9 tall and delicate angels which is carried on the backs of over 100 men through dark medieval backstreets lined with townspeople waiting with bated breath… and you are just beginning to get a sense of the wonder.

The transport of the Macchina is rooted in the 13th-century when the Viterbo Saint’s body was transferred from her burial place to the Poor Clares’ church upon Papal mandate.  The canopied, altar-like constructions carried in her feast day  procession until the 18th-century morphed into a belltower-like structures in the last century and the papier mache’ used gave way to steel, aluminums and fibre glass, assuring a fireproof and lighter Macchina.

Every five years, a design competition is launched for a new Macchina. Contest guidelines mandate that la Macchina  must be 28 meters higher than the shouiders of the facchini,  (“porters”, i.e, the carriers) and can be no wider than 4.3 meters (Viterbo’s medieval backstreets are narrow!). In arduous tryouts at the end of June, facchini candidates carry a 150-kilo load 90 meters on an elliptical-shaped route, etched out on a church floor. On September 3rd, the selected facchini will carry la Macchina 1-1/2 km through darkened streets, with stops in five places.

Before the transport, the facchini receive the traditional blessing at the Church of San Sisto. Upon asking the mother of one of the younger facchini  if she was worried for her son, she answered “Ma no!…Santa Rosa lo proteggera’!” (Absolutely not, Santa Rosa will protect him.)

After the blessing, just outside the church, the facchini take their places around la Macchina, following the three commands of their capofacchino: “Sotto col ciuffo e fermi”  (i.e.Take your positions and halt), “Sollevate e fermi” (Lift and stand still), and “Per Santa Rosa, avanti!” (For Santa Rosa, forward!)

Some images courteously provided by Also, see Evanne’s note with images of the previous Macchina di Santa Rosa.

Anne Robichaud

by Anne Robichaud

An authorized Umbrian tour guide, Anne and her husband Pino worked the land for many years in the 1970’s so rural life, rural people, rural cuisine are una passione for her. See Umbria from “the inside”: join her May 2017 ten-day tour centered on discovering Umbria, Anne’s Umbria.

See for more on her Umbria tours. Do see for news on the Assisi apartment – and Assisi countryside guest house – she and Pino now rent out.

Anne writes frequently on Umbria and other areas of Italy. Read about her annual U.S. Feb/Mar cooking classes and lectures, as well as her numerous Italy insights on her blog.

21 Responses to “La Macchina di Santa Rosa”

  1. Evanne

    Hi Anne. Yes, I wrote about this in a note on August 25, 2008, the last time it happened.Thanks so much for mentioning it. Did you attend this one? It certainly was spectacular, but once in a lifetime was enough to experience it first hand in the crowd for us. If you know someone on the route and can watch it from their balcony or even window, that would be great. You have almost five years to find out!

  2. Gerald Anders

    I have been following Italian Notebook for about a year now and have found the articles very helpful and interesting. I recently re-located from NY to Rome for the year and would love to find a list of some of the events that are often highlighted. It is VERY frustrating to read about them after they have taken place and realize that I could have gone if I had only known and that I will not be here for the event next year.

    I am not expecting or asking for anyone to create such a list, but Is there a resource (or several) that I can use to know about these events BEFORE they occur? Food, arts, liturgical, historical- cultural – they are all of interest.

    Many thanks, gerald

    • GB

      Gerald, good idea! We’re on it. Now that we have quite a few notes in the archives, we should be able to create something along those lines, will let you know.
      In the meantime, as for reading up on other events, click on “Events” at the top of the page (by the ItalianNotebook header). You will be able to see each note in reverse chronological order, by month and year. Clicking on any one of them will take you to that note.

    • I love Gerald’s idea! Yes, one can find basic listings of large festivals across Italy on the internet, buried in the tourist visit websites. But, to have a more specific list, from the ‘insider scoop,’ would be wonderful. I do try to go back over old postings from various websites (including yours) to find out about annual events, but it is definitely hit or miss.

      Italian Notebook would be wise to do a listing like this. I know you have your Events page which has different festivals mentioned each year, but just one page of a whole calendar year of annual events would be very handy. Just an idea! Thanks so much. Btw, I LOVE Italian Notebook!

      • GB

        Thanks for your thoughts here, Lee. I was thinking of an actual single page calendar as well! And there should be the possibility to filter it as needed by area/regione too, to allow readers to review events for all of Italy, or just the Veneto, or Sicily, etc.

        • gerald anders

          Thanks for printing and responding to my comment a couple of weeks ago. It has been interesting to follow yours and others. Meanwhile, here in Rome, on the street I found a book by Marco Ferri: Feste e Tradizioni Popolari della Toscana published by Newton Compton in 2006 ISBN 88-541-0723-9 which lists in chronological order more than 300 events in Tuscany. in addition to short descriptive paragraphs there are quick reference tables in the back of the book.

          Minimal Italian will make this very user friendly.

          Would love to know if there are other such books for other regions that people might know. If so, please email me at

  3. I would love to just once be a part of the wonderful and exciting festivals throughout Italy. We were a few days short of the Infiorata flower festival in Spello this past June. Anne, I always love reading your articles on Italian Notebook. Keep them coming!!

  4. Five tons on the shoulders of 100 men??? That’s 100# each. Yow. I thought it was a big deal to carry a 35# pack when hiking.

  5. Sounds like a wonderful procession to witness. You are always so full of interesting facts, Anne. You bio says the website about your apartment in Assisi is coming soon, but I think you are renting it already? I know I’ve been daydreaming about staying there every since you mentioned it.

  6. I was born in Viterbo and as a little girl I looked forward to this wonderful event each year. Santa Rosa was our Saint and we love her.
    I have gone back several times for such an event and the memories sound etc.. are unforgettable. If anyone has a chance to visit Viterbo on this wonderful feast day, please do so you will never forget it. Thank You so much for these notes I enjoy each and every one.

  7. Anne Robichaud

    Thanks to all for your notes and yes, the apt ready / and gratefully, all guests til now have molto enjoyed as their comments on site show..and more going up.
    Re: S. Rosa – the wonders of Italy?
    too much to see/do….took me over 30 years to get to Viterbo for Sept 3rd..and Viterbo is only 1- 1/2 hrs from us by car!!!!!!!
    But,….now, I’ll NEVER be anywhere else on Sept 3rd!
    Evanne, we hand booked sense of crowds just a great sense of crowd solidarity and passione….!

  8. I have officially put La Macchina di Santa Rosa on my bucket list, Anne, thank you! This event sounds so incredible. I am amazed how all of this work goes into just one event.

    I am a bit confused though… is this event just ONE day (evening)? And is it every year, or every five years? (Evanne’s comment confuses me that “you have almost five years to find out.”
    They do all this work (designing, building, carrying) for the one-time celebration of just a few hours? Does the macchina stay there for a few days, a few weeks, or is it taken down the very next morning? Since it gets a new design/rebuild every five years, does it get stored somewhere (I would think in pieces of course)? Must I be there only on Sept 3 to have the opportunity to see it, or could I show up a couple days later and still see it standing?

    Sorry to ask so many questions, but it’s not clear from your post. Thank you!

  9. I love learning about these marvelous celebrations anchored in tradition. Grazie! I, too, would love a calendar…

  10. Anne Robichaud

    Thanks for all notes and Lee, yes, la Macchina is carried only on the evening of the 3rd but many events day prior, ie, the carrying of S. Rosa relic through streets to the most important churches, meeting of all civic and religious authorities to announce festivities etc…best to be there nights of Sept 2, 3..and la Macchina will be used for 5 yrs….there is a now a Museo della Macchina…with info on all..and all past macchine histories…
    A bit more info for you here:

  11. Rosemary

    Fantastic! I loved all the festivals we attended in Italy! This one escaped my notice! Thanks for this note, informative and entertaining as always, Anne.

  12. Don’t you dare start tempting me only one day home after I’ve just spent the last 3 glorious weeks with you and lived in your apt!!!!! But YES!!!! this one sounds glorious! Can’t wait to read more about it…..
    And si!……..decided on one of my many layovers yesterday, that I WILL be back. Oh…I don’t know….sounds like an anuual Assisi and surrounding areas getaway will be just the treat I give to myself!!

  13. Anne, you are a veritable walking encyclopedia! Where do you store all this information?! How do you manage your home and family? I “BOW” to you. Your fan, Marianna

  14. Rodolfo

    I believe that the best information can be found on the official website of the Association Facchini of Santa Rosa. Updating the website and photos relating to the Festival, takes place every year in May. on FaceBook page Sodalizio Facchini di Santa Rosa.

  15. CeciliaBelenardo

    Loved this notebook. Thank’s for the information. Wish I could be a part of this beautiful procession.


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