Easter in Rome can be one of the most rewarding times to enjoy the city. While the weather can be changeable at this time of the year, it’s a moment when the city’s churches – and there are more than 1000 of them – really enter the fray, and regional food traditions get another major chance to shine. Traditionally, visiting Rome at Easter was a particularly chaotic time to descend on the capital, but as travellers and tourists these days book their trips to Rome all year round, Easter isn’t necessarily any more fraught than the rest of the spring, summer or autumn calendar. This article will go into some detail describing what it’s like to spend Easter Week or Holy Week 2019 in Rome, with a guide to the events surrounding it, and some of the culinary traditions of Easter in Italy. For part one of this post, A guide to the Rome Carnival and Ash Wednesday, click here.
If, on the other hand, you’re looking to book a hotel for your trip to Rome, click here for a list filtered by me including some of my favourite hotels in Rome. My top tip this month is Hotel Monte Cenci, but if that’s all booked up, try one of these. Alternatively, if you’d like to stay near the Vatican, you can’t go wrong with this selection.
Easter in Rome 2019: This year’s dates
Easter in Rome 2019 falls on Sunday April 21st, as the culmination of the period of Lent and Holy Week. From Ash Wednesday (March 6th in 2019) until Easter Saturday, Christians traditionally enter the 40 day period of fasting known as Lent which is meant to reflect Christ’s 40 days in the wilderness. Held straight after the festivities of Carnival, it is a poignant period of reflection and abstinence for Christians. Following Lent comes Holy Week or Easter Week, which starts seven days before Easter Sunday, marking the most solemn period of the Christian and Catholic year. During Holy Week, the faithful focus their minds on the ultimate sacrifice of Christ, commemorated on Good Friday.
Across Italy, as a deeply Catholic country, Holy Week (or Easter Week) is widely celebrated. It’s worth exploring customs in both north and south Italy round Easter, which range from lifelike crucifixions to solemn processions on Good Friday, and richly diverse food traditions on Easter Sunday. Read on for the full guide to spending Easter in Rome 2019, with essential information about Holy Week 2019 in Rome.
Holy Week 2019 Rome: The Triduum
The Catholic faith has a special name for the three principal days that make up Easter Weekend, that begins with the liturgy on the evening of Maundy Thursday (Holy Thursday), includes Good Friday and ends with evening prayer on Easter Sunday. This is known as the Easter Triduum, Holy Triduum or the Paschal Triduum, and simply means ‘three days’ in Latin. Easter Saturday, although celebrated by the faithful, is not included in the three days: the Triduum only refers to Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Although Holy Week refers to the entire week preceding Easter Sunday, and many worshippers enter a period of prayer with key masses at the start of the week, services really begin to intensify with the arrival of Maundy Thursday, also known as Holy Thursday.
Holy Week 2019 Rome: Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday in Rome 2019
Falling on April 18th in 2019, Maundy Thursday services for both Catholic and Anglican believers include one of the most intimate elements of Christian tradition. Echoing the story of Christ, who washed the feet of his disciples the night before his crucifixion, priests and pastors all over Rome wash the feet of their congregation across hundreds of different services, as the bible passage describing Christ’s washing of his disciples’ feet is read out loud. In 2017, Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 refugees at a centre outside Rome, and usually chooses the most marginalised groups of society for this special ritual. Keep this page bookmarked for news of Pope Francis’ celebration of Holy Thursday during Holy Week 2019. If you are interested in Anglican traditions in the city, All Saints Church will hold a traditional Maundy Thursday service at 7pm that evening in English with washing of feet.
Following Maundy Thursday services, members of church congregations are invited to keep watch at the sepulchre that evening, a richly decorated altar in which the Eucharist has been placed at the end of this special mass or service. This ceremony is meant to reflect Christ’s prayerful vigil the night before his crucifixion. In Rome, many worshippers try to visit as many churches as they can on the evening of Holy Thursday, to see the range of sepulchres which have been decorated at churches across the city. Look out for incredible flower arrangements and rich cloths and tapestries as you visit the churches of Rome.
Holy Week 2019 Rome: Good Friday in Rome 2019
Good Friday – while technically one of the holiest days of the year – is surprisingly not a public holiday in Italy. The Italians save their holiday for the joyful period after Easter Sunday, when they can commemorate Christ’s resurrection. Good Friday is a very special time to be in Italy, however, with a range of extraordinary ceremonies and services up and down the country. Head to Sicily if you want to witness the most dramatic representations of Good Friday, with highlights including the solemn, black-clothed Good Friday procession in Palermo, when young men from the town bear the statues of Our Lady of Sorrows (a mourning representation of Mary) and the Dead Christ, both dramatically dressed figures. The faithful wear hoods and the women wear black cloaks as a sign of mourning. Similar processions can be witnessed right across the country. In Partanna Mondello, on the outskirts of Palermo, a passion play over several days recreates key elements of the Christian story including the Last Supper and Trial on Holy Thursday and the procession of the Dead Christ on Good Friday. The Crucifixion and the Burial are also played out. Across other Sicilian towns, and parts of Sardinia, physical crucifixions are represented with young men tied to wooden crosses in Avola, Corleone, Licodia, Eubea, Biancavilla, Leonforte and Mussomeli.
In Rome on Good Friday 2019, April 19th, Pope Francis leads a service at the Vatican Basilica at 5 pm in the afternoon for the highest officers of the church, including cardinals and bishops, but the main event on Good Friday is the Via Crucis ceremony, at 9pm in the evening. The Via Crucis sees Pope Francis leads a torchlit procession from the Colosseum to the Palatine Hill, stopping at the 14 Stations of the Cross along the way to say a prayer while a cross flames against the sky. At the end of the Via Crucis, he says a few words to the faithful and passes his blessing on the crowds. This is definitely one of the most dramatic elements of Holy Week 2019.
If you would like to witness a more intimate Via Crucis, the district of Testaccio holds a Via Crucis of its own on the afternoon of Good Friday, when the faithful community from the neighbourhood gather at the foot of Mount Testaccio and climb the district’s small hill together, while a priest says a prayer at each of the stations of the cross. To find out more, or to attend this ceremony, click here.
Holy Week 2019 Rome: Holy Saturday or Easter Saturday 2019
The tradition of the Easter vigil – waiting for the resurrection of Christ – means that many churches opt for evening services on Easter Saturday, which are balanced between mourning and hope. Frequently, the services begin in candlelit darkness, and are flooded with light towards the end, as a symbol of the dawning of light with the resurrection of Christ. Pope Francis presides at a mass in the Vatican at 20.30 when he blesses the ‘new fire’ in the atrium of Saint Peter’s Basilica. After the ceremonial entry into the Basilica, carrying the Easter candle, the Eucharist is celebrated once again.
Holy Week 2019 Rome: Easter Sunday 2019
At 10 am on Easter Sunday, Pope Francis celebrates mass in Saint Peter’s Square, where the faithful gather under his window. You still need tickets for this open-air event so apply via the Vatican Prefecture website for these by clicking here. At the end of the mass, he imparts the ‘Urbi et Orbi’ benediction. All over Rome, churches hold their own services to celebrate one of the most joyful days in the Christian calendar, including an Easter Sunday mass at All Saints’ Church in Rome for the Anglican community. For Holy Week 2019, early risers can catch a Vigil and First Mass of Easter at 5.30 am on Sunday morning at All Saints Anglican church. Otherwise, join the main sung service at 10.30 am, also in English. This event tends to be very popular so don’t get there too late!
Easter in Rome 2019: Traditional food
As in many parts of the world, the tradition of Easter eggs has arrived in Rome and the weeks running up to Easter see supermarkets, stores and speciality confectioners’ overflowing with large, ornate chocolate eggs. Look out too for sugar lambs, made from pure sugar, chocolate hens and other creatures. On St. Joseph’s day, March 19th, soft fried batter treats, bigne di San Giuseppe, are also very popular. Traditional Easter Sunday lunch in Rome is usually abbacchio, oversized roast lamb which is actually one of the most popular dishes in Rome all year round. If you’re planning to eat at a traditional trattoria in Rome on Easter Sunday, don’t forget to book ahead!
Easter in Rome 2019: Easter Monday or Pasquetta
Easter Monday falls on April 22nd in 2019, marking the culmination of Holy Week 2019. The Italian term for Easter Monday is Pasquetta, literally little Easter, and it’s a popular holiday to spend amongst friends after having dedicated Easter Sunday to the family. In the south of Italy, especially in Sicily, the weather is often good enough to go to the beach or plan a picnic. Cynical Romans declare that it always rains on Easter Monday in Rome but often make tentative plans all the same to do something outside, such as a picnic in one of Rome’s parks. I’m not a natural pessimist, but I have to say – they’re usually right – it’s often cold and damp! However, if you’re feeling optimistic, and want to plan a picnic, have a look here for a few ideas.
If you want to apply for tickets for the papal masses on Easter Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Saturday in Rome 2019, please note that all applications have to be consigned no later than the end of March. The page for reserving tickets (still being updated) can be found here. All tickets for papal masses are issued free of charge so don’t unscrupulous tour operators charge you for these.