This time of the year is one of the most exciting in Gozo. It is the time when the Maltese religious culture comes spectacularly to life. Churches are decorated with cloth hangings, ornaments, and flowers and emotions run unusually high.
Holy Week commences, on the Friday preceding Palm Sunday, with the procession of Id-Duluri, the procession with the statue of the Virgin Mary of Sorrows. People pace and pray in procession wending their way, as traditional demands, barefoot through the streets. To join even more tangibly in the sorrows of the Blessed Virgin, the most devoted believers also fast for the day, taking only bread and water.
On Palm Sunday the people convene in a chapel in the vicinity of each parish church. The celebrant blesses sprouting palm fronds and olive branches with holy water and wafts incense over them before distributing them to the congregation. The celebrant and the people then carry the fronds and branches in procession from the chapel to the principal church. This is done to recall the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jeruslamen before His death. At the end, the palm fronds and olives branches are taken home and placed in prominent places to ward off evil.
The people gather again in church on Maundy Thursday in the evening. At the end of mass, the celebrant carries the Blessed Sacrament from the high altar to the Altar of Repose, locally known as Is-Sepulkru. The Altar of Repose is lighted by row upon row of candles, each rising from a multitude of spring flowers and plates of sprouting grain. People from every rank and class, in couples or in groups, visit Is-Sepulkru to pray. As there is a beautiful Altar of Repose in every church and chapel, many make it a point to visit not one but seven altars, reciting prayers intermittently as they move from one church to another.
A Sepulkru worthy of special mention is assembled in the Gozo Cathedral. It consists of a wooden baroque structure resembling a royal sepulchre that takes up a whole chapel in the left aisle.
The most poignant event of Holy Week is the procession on Good Friday. The main attraction is a set of seven life-size tableaux representing the principal moments of the passion and the death of Jesus: Christ at Gethsemane; The Scourging at the Pillar; The Crowning with Thorns; The Fall under the Cross; The Crucifixion; The Procession to the Tomb; and Our Lady of Sorrows. The statues are papier mache` models, most of them richly dressed in velvet clothes, just like those in Seville, Spain.
The most majestic is the Crucifixion: it portrays Christ crucified with the evangelist Saint John the Apostle on one side and the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus, on the other. Mary Magdalene embraces the feet of the dying Christ, while a soldier pierces Jesus’s side with a lance.
The Cathedral procession in Ir-Rabat is particularly impressive. Here a local band along with scores of children and young people dressed in period costumes add to the pageantry. Most striking are the Roman Legionaires – with gleaming breastplates, spears and shields – announcing themselves with trumpets and drums.
in ir-Rabat (Victoria) retains the traditional Maltese format of the Good Friday procession with participation of the Fratellanza and chain bearers following each statue. The chain bearers, usually men disguised in hoods, drag chains attached to their heels as an act of penance or for a vow that they might have pledged. The statue of Our lady of Sorrows is carried at the end of the procession with her devotees following behind.
Other Gozitan parishes also have their own forms of Good Friday procession. Those particularly worth seeing for their spectacular pageantry are those of ix-Xagħra, in-Nadur, iż-Żebbuġ and ix-Xewkija parishes, with the latter taking place on the Friday preceding Good Friday.