La Macchina di Santa Rosa in Viterbo

Saint Rose, or Santa Rosa, born in the Northern Lazio city of Viterbo in 1235, didn't have a lot of luck. She died at the end of her teens, although not before having set in motion her canonization over 200 years later, due to her holiness and miraculous powers. Unfortunately, even the sands of time have been unkind to Santa Rosa, as many of the records of her acts have since been lost, although those that do remain detail her banishment from Viterbo due to being so successful as to be considered a serious threat to the holy Roman emperor. 

Thankfully though, Santa Rosa was allowed to return to the city of her birth in 1251, although it was just a year later that she succumbed to a heart condition called Cantrell's syndrome.

Santa Rosa is the patron saint of people in exile, people rejected by religious orders, and indeed, the city of Viterbo. To honor her, the Viterbese celebrate her feast day on the 4th September, with a large market and various festivities throughout the city. On the evening of the 3rd September, 100 men (the porters, or Facchini di Santa Rosa) transport a 28 meter high construction, the Macchina di Santa Rosa, through the streets of Viterbo, echoing the route her body took in 1258, from the former church of Santa Maria del Poggio to the church of Santa Maria delle Rose. The whole route is apparently a little bit more than 1km. If you want to see it, get there early as the surrounding streets fill up pretty quickly.
About an hour before the Macchina arrived, we were ready.  Apparently a few other people were as well.

The transport of the Macchina begins at the Porta Romana. Around 8pm (theoretically, although it seemed to start much later when we were there), the 800 candles of the Macchina are lit and the street lights along the route and nearby streets are switched off. At around 9pm, the porters begin the first leg of the route, usually signaled to the rest of the spectators along the route by raucous cheering. When we heard this, we knew we had another hour or so to wait before the Macchina would hopefully make an appearance. Just enough time to queue for another beer :-)

Always the shy one, La Macchina peaks out above a nearby building
Of course, the porters can't carry the Macchina all the way in one go. In fact, they stop at a number of places along the way. Most of the porters only carry the Macchina for some of the way, swapping with others for different legs of the journey. The porters take a break at:
  • Piazza Fontana Grande
  • Piazza del Plebiscito (in front of the guildhall)
  • Piazza delle Erbe
  • Corso Italia (in front of the church Santa Maria del Suffragio)
  • Piazza del Teatro.
Here, after waiting for about 2.5hrs, we get our view
As you can see from the photos, the Macchina is quite eye-catching. It's redesigned every 5 years. The construction's maximum height has to be 28 meters, with a maximum width of 4.3 meters, in order to allow it to pass through the narrow medieval streets. The last time we went was in 2009 (when these photos were taken), which was the first time the current Macchina, called 'Fiore del Cielo', or Flower of the Sky, was used. Designed by architects Artuto Vittori and Andreas Vogler, the design is characterized by three golden helices twisting skywards.
Yes I know this photo is so big it messes up the page but I wanted you to see Fiore del Cielo in all her glory

The last stretch up to the church of Santa Rosa is quite steep, so the Macchina stays there for quite some time. This is a good place to view if you can get there early enough to get a good position. If you can't get too close to La Macchina on the night itself, you'll get another chance in the following days as it is left in front of the church for viewings.

So, if you're in or near Viterbo around the 3rd September, why not head down there to check out this ancient festival? It's one of the more unusual and emotional spectacles in Northern Lazio and is a really great occasion as the whole city comes out to celebrate and take part in the festivities.

More on La Macchina di Santa Rosa can be found on Wikipedia and on the excellent News from Italy blog.


  1. Of course it will be absolutely no surprise to you Pete that I agree this is a must see event if you are in the Lazio region in early September. We have seen it a number of times now and I have written about it on the blog more than once. Thanks very much for the link to News From Italy, that was a nice surprise this morning.

  2. It looks amazing! Hope to see it next time we are in Italy! Enjoy your time there.

  3. Lindyloumac - you're welcome! It's easy to link to good blogs :-) There are so many feste and sagre that it's hard sometimes to separate the wheat from the chaff so I'm happy you agree that it's a worthwhile festival to see.

    Francesca - ciao, thanks for your comment. It's well worth seeing, but you'll have to be quick if you want to catch the current design!

  4. Very nice. Thanks Pete. If you want to discover more about Tuscia, follow us on

  5. First time hearing of this saint.