“Essida de sos candhaleris” means “egress of the candle holders” in Sardinian dialect, and refers to the traditional event celebrating the Assumption of Mary into Heaven on August 14 in Nulvi, a small town in the province of Sassari, Sardinia.
The procession is similar to others held in other locations around the island, like Iglesias, Sassari, and Ploaghe. In Nulvi, the representatives of three local “gremi” (corporations) walk carrying votive candles from the church of San Filippo Neri to the church of the Assunta. The “handle holders” are not the men, but the nearly 10-meter-tall structures made of intertwined canes and decorated papier-mâché where the candles are placed. Also known as “tabernacoli”, they are made in three different colors: yellow for farmers (“sos massajos”), blue for craftsmen (“sos mastros”), and green for breeders (“sos pastores”). The event originated as a way to give thanks after the end of a 17th-century plague epidemic.
Almost everywhere in Sardinia, according to historian Francesco Manconi (“Castigo de Dios: la grande peste barocca nella Sardegna di Filippo IV”, Donzelli, Rome 1994), “mid-August is the conventional time to remember the end of the plague”. “Among the possible explanations for the phenomenon, the most believable is based on the end of the plague-transmitting flea’s lifecycle in the end of August. But there is another convincing explanation, according to which the ban on processions – due to the fear they would spread the disease – was lifted because the epidemic was about to stop, and relapses were highly unlikely […]. There was a deliberate intention to make the end of the plague coincide with the favorable intervention of the Holy Virgin, which the faithful always placed at the top of their list for intercessions…”
Whatever the historical and sociological factors may be in its past, today the Nulvi procession is simply a powerful and evocative folk celebration.