Easter Procession of Za Krizem: 500 Years of Tradition on Hvar
The overnight Easter Procession through the towns of Jelsa, Pitve, Vrisnik, Svirce, Vrbanj and Vrboska is the highlight of Easter on Hvar, Croatia.
Croatians take their religion seriously and, in a country which is 90% Catholic, the Church plays a prominent role in daily life. Easter is the most important religious festival on the island of Hvar, and this is celebrated with an Easter procession called Za Krizem, a 22 km procession of prayer and chanting through the night behind a barefoot cross-bearer.
The Procession: Za Krizem (Behind the Cross)
Za Krizem is actually six processions all leaving simultaneously from the villages of Jelsa, Pitve, Vrisnik, Svirce, Vrisnik and Vrboksa at 10:30 on the evening of Maundy Thursday. Each group is headed by acolytes carrying lanterns to show the way for the cross bearer, who carries a wooden cross (weighing between 10 and 18 kg) barefoot the entire route. Each procession heads in a clockwise direction to the next parish church, praying and chanting along the way, before stopping in the church for prayers and the harmonies of the lament of Mother Mary.
After praying in each church, the procession continues along the circle of hilltop villagesand along the coastal towns of Vrboska and Jelsa, before ending at the starting point, with the exhausted cross-bearer often running the last few steps before surrendering the cross to the parish priest. The deep male voices chanting through the night give the procession a special atmosphere, as does the practice of every household in the participating villages leaving a light on through the night.
The Easter procession is a popular event for pilgrims and tourists alike, the start of Easter festivities and a time when relatives return to the island for the celebrations. Each procession finishes about 7am and the paths to the churches are sometimes rugged, so it is not a pilgrimage for the fainthearted. Some cafes in Jelsa and Vrboksa remain open through the night, but refreshments are otherwise limited.
The Role of the Cross Bearer
It is seen as a high honour to be chosen as a cross bearer and there is a long waiting list for the privilege. It is a highly respected position and the krizonosa has a luminous cross displayed outside his home for the period before and after the procession. Competition is tough, and a 2007 applicant was told the first available opportunity to carry the Jelsa cross was in 2033. Although there is no age limit, a level of fitness is obviously required, especially as the heavy cross is covered in a veil for the journey, and can be severely unwieldy in the wind.
The krizonosa chooses a close circle of male companions to assist him through the night, and they are on hand in case he gets into difficulty. Dressed in black, they provide a stark contrast to the cream robes of the brotherhood worn by the krizonosa and the chanting acolytes. Here is some footage of the procession entering the church in Pitve in 2009.
History of the Procession
The history of the procession dates back to the 16th Century and was placed underUNESCO protection in 2009. Its origins lie in a populist rebellion to the autocratic rule of the Venetians, and the procession has taken place every year, quite an achievement given the recent past with Communism and the war in Yugoslavia.
With the procession over, residents focus on the rest of the Easter celebrations, and the churches are strangely silent, the only time in the year when the church bells do not chime on the hour, although they more than make up for it with exuberant ringing on Easter Sunday, the highlight of the Easter celebration.