The Feast of the Arbëreshë Dead in Calabria

The rite of commemoration of the Arbëreshë dead (Java e Prigatorëvet)
Festa dei Morti arbereshe (2)

© Lino Luzzi

Tradition and folklore

Among the most heartfelt and evocative traditions of the Italo-Albanian communities in Calabria is the Feast of the Arbëreshë Dead.

The commemoration of the Arbëreshë dead is held every year on the Saturday that precedes the beginning of Lent by 15 days (for 2024, Saturday 27 January) and amounts to a veritable feast, at which the worlds of the living and the dead meet in a moment of conviviality.

Let's find out exactly what the Arbëreshë Festival of the Dead consists of and where to attend the commemoration of the dead in the Arbëreshë villages in Calabria.

Java and Prigatorëvet: the rite of the Arbëreshë dead

Known in the Arbëreshë language as Java e Prigatorëvet, the Albanian Feast of the Dead is one of the most important religious festivities for the Italo-Albanian community in Italy and, of course, also in Calabria. Rich in meanings and ancient traditions of the Greek-Byzantine rite, Java e Prigatorëvet is literally the time of year when the dead are thought to leave their graves to return and visit the living.

What does one do for the Arbëreshë Festival of the Dead? The Psycosabbaton (Saturday of the Souls in Purgatory) starts at dawn, with children knocking from house to house and shouting "Ndje Zot!" ("Forgive me oh Lord!") asking for bread, oil, boiled wheat and some change.

The morning continues with the religious liturgy in suffrage of the dead and the long-awaited procession with the papàs to the village cemetery for the blessing of the graves. It is here that the Albanian rite includes a very emotional custom: the sharing of lunch with the deceased, based on previously blessed boiled wheat and bread, offered to those present as a symbol of the immortality of the soul and resurrection of the body.

Festa dei Morti arbereshe
Lino Luzzi

The day ends with the "men's banquet", where wine and the traditional dish of pasta and chickpeas are consumed in suffrage of the souls of the dead.

What to see in the Arbëreshë villages

During Java and Prigatorëvet week, each of the Arbëreshë villages is traversed by evocative ritual figures.

Since it is believed that at this time of year Jesus Christ gave the dead permission to come out of the tombs and return to the realm of the living to visit homes and family members, the historic centres of many towns are lit by lanterns consisting of a candle placed in a glass container, fuelled with olive oil.

This particular custom serves to show the dead the way home and is often associated with the appearance of two figures: one with a saddlebag and the other with a bell, announcing their arrival.

Festa dei Morti arbereshe
Lino Luzzi

Among the Arbëreshë villages to visit in the province of Cosenza we recommend Lungro, with its eparchy, Civita, among The Most Beautiful Villages in Italy, known for the Devil's Bridge and the so-called Kodra Houses, with human features. Don't miss the Festival of the Dead in San Demetrio Corone and in the towns of Vaccarizzo Albanese, Santa Sofia d'Epiro and Frascineto, which are very active in preserving typical Arbëreshë customs and traditions in their museums.

In the province of Crotone, the Arbëreshë Feast of the Dead occurs in Carfizzi, Pallagorio and San Nicola dell'Alto, while in the Catanzaro area, among the most active Italo-Albanian communities is that of Caraffa.

Regione Calabria

Ultimo aggiornamento: Feb 14, 2024 10:33 AM