Holy Week Processions

The origin of the religious traditions of Holy Week can be traced back to the time of the Crusades, when survivors of these distant expeditions to the Holy Land introduced the Christians of the West to the rites of their brothers of the East. Accounts of the first Good Friday Processions can be found in Monaco from the thirteenth century. This ceremony, however, did not take on its full significance until the foundation by Prince Honoré II in 1639 of the Venerable Brotherhood of the Black Penitents of Mercy.

Since that time, this Brotherhood, whose members are Monégasques of all ages and conditions, brought together in the spirit of serene piety and disinterested love of one's neighbors, organizes each year on the evening of Good Friday, the Procession of the Dead Christ, a traveling evocation complete with all the characters, real or imaginary, of the main Stations of the Cross.

Saint John

On the eve of Saint John's day, June 23rd, when the gardens of Monaco are ablaze under the setting sun, Monégasques mindful of the customs of their country assemble on the Palace Square.

There are folk groups, surrounding the Palladienne, Monaco's own folk group, a dynamic gathering of young people wearing the costumes of the past, singing, dancing and playing the mandolin charmingly. Groups come from France, Italy and Spain to take part in the Monégasques' Saint John festival.

In the Palace chapel, dedicated to Saint John the Baptist himself, the Prince's Family attend a service which is also attended by several privileged people such as the Presidents of the Tradition Associations, together with their flags.

At the end of this ceremony, two footmen of the Sovereign’s Household, each dressed in fine livery and carrying a burning torch, set alight a bonfire in the center of the Square. The people in the crowd applaud with all their hearts. Airs of bygone times accompany farandoles around the flames over which the boldest leap with a single bound.

On June 24, Saint John's Day, the Feast moves from Monaco-Ville to Monte-Carlo. A procession forms up on the Place des Moulins (Mill Square) where the old olive presses used to operate.

The folk groups form a guard of honor around "Little Saint John" and his lamb. The procession, accompanied by music of its own making reaches the Church of Saint Charles in the parish of Monte-Carlo.

After a religious service, the procession returns to the Place des Moulins. A bonfire is set up, the Monégasque national anthem is played and then, the popular and religious feast combined, the great ball of Saint John commences in the open air and continues until late at night.

Saint Roman

After Saint Dévote, Saint Roman is the most popular and most venerated saint in the Principality.

The veneration by the Monégasques of this Roman legionary, who suffered martyrdom on August 9, 258 in the reign of the Emperor Valerian, goes back to the sixteenth century when a relic of Saint Roman was entrusted to the Terrazzani family who had a chapel built in which to lay it.

For several centuries, the Feast of Saint Roman took place at the hamlet of les Moulins ("the Mills") near the old chapel.

Around 1880, the festivities moved to Monaco-Ville. Today, with the support of the Committee of the Feasts of Saint Roman, people still dance and enjoy cool drinks in the month of August under the foliage of the hundred-year-old trees of the Saint Martin gardens.

Monégasque National Holiday

Faithful to a tradition which goes back to 1857, the Monégasque National Holiday is now celebrated on November 19th (Saint Rainier’s Day), the Saint Day of H.S.H. Prince Rainier of Monaco.

Previously, the Festival of Saint Dévote was observed as the National Holiday.

Typical National Day festivities include: a Thanksgiving Mass with a program of choice music, the conferring of honors and decorations at the Palace, a gala evening at the Opera House, treats for children and elderly people and a grand evening firework display over the harbor which all contribute to make this day of gaiety the great Festival of the Monégasque people.

Numerous traditions, which, though lapsed today but perhaps only temporarily forgotten, bore witness right up to the last century to both the religious spirit and joy of living of the Monégasques.

The Traditions of Saint Blaise, very popular among country people: the peasants came in procession, often on the backs of donkeys, from the plain of the Condamine or its neighboring hills, to have the seeds of their future crops blessed together with several handfuls of figs; these latter had the power of curing tonsillitis and seasonal colds.

The Tradition of the "Mays" with, from the first to the last of this month marking the height of Spring, dances ("farandoles") round a Maypole, decorated with flowers and red and white ribbons - the Monégasque colors - set up in the very center of the Palace Square.

The Tradition of the "Pignata" Ball, organized on the first Sunday of Lent, which takes its name from the cooking pot which members of the crowd, their eyes blindfolded, tried to break at intervals with heavy blows of their sticks.

The Tradition of the "Ciaraviyù" (the Monégasque form of the French word "charivari" meaning "racket") that consisted of providing the most unharmonious serenade possible, continuing all night long, under the windows of newlyweds when they formed a far too disparate couple.

Plus many others which the National Committee of Monégasque Traditions, established in 1924, is trying to revive. It has already revived the tradition of Saint Nicolas, the patron saint of good children, which takes place on December 8.