Catholic processions with large shoulder processional structures take place throughout Italy, but in Nola in particular, every year the Feast of the lilies is attended, on June 22 if it falls on a Sunday, a procession of eight wooden and papier-mâché obelisks.
The eight obelisks symbolise the return of Ponzio Meropio Paolino, former bishop of Nola who later became San Paolino, in 431 following his liberation by the barbarians; from the 19th century they are characterised by a height of 25 metres, with a base of about three metres per side, for a total weight of over twenty-five quintals.
Each obelisk, by tradition, represents one of the guilds of arts and crafts existing at the time of San Paolino, and together with the boat with which the saint is said to have landed in Torre Annunziata, they parade along a predefined route through the historic core of the city, to get up to Nola Dome Square, to receive the blessing of the Bishop.
The event is “written in the DNA” of the inhabitants of Nola; the religious procession is characterised by dozens of volunteers who carry the huge and heavy structure on their shoulders. The coordinated and fair sharing of tasks is a fundamental part of the celebration, which unites the community through the consolidation of mutual respect, cooperation, and common commitment.
The celebration of the Feast of the lilies involves musicians and singers, as well as skilled craftsmen who manufacture the processional structures and create ceremonial clothes and artifacts.
The community relies on the informal transmission of these techniques and knowledge to recreate the structures each year, in a process that aids cultural continuity and reinforces a strong sense of identity.