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The great festival of the Most Holy Crucifix (il Santissimo Crocifisso) has its roots in two distinct but related historic events. One of these followed the release of an edict by the Bourbon Viceroy of Sicily in 1782 that all citizens must give up their arms. Or, it may have happened in 1728, or it may never have actually happened at all; but town lore holds that the maestranza guild of Calatafimi - its craftspeople and small merchants - were both distrustful of their rulers and desirous of keeping their guns for hunting, and came up with the brilliant plan of having the local arch priest declare them the protective militia of the town’s churches, thereby exempting them from the edict. To this day, the members of the maestranza proudly march in a hybrid civilian-military mode of black dress suits and fedoras, white vests and gloves, with shotguns at their side, in two tight columns with halberd-bearers at their lead. (In a highly unusual tradition, they proudly carry their weapons right into the church.) The other, earlier event also involved the maestranza. In 1657, several of the town’s elite attributed miraculous cures to an ebony-figured crucifix that legend says had been found in a farm field. To express their due gratitude to God, they offered to share some of their wealth with the miserably poor and hungry populace. A procession was arranged, during which hard bread, dried nuts and chickpeas were thrown from horse-drawn carts to the on-looking crowds. The maestranza served as peacekeepers and protectors of the elite during the procession. Periodic re-enactments of this procession, joined with the later triumph over the Hapsburg edict, developed into the current festival, which merges civic pride with religious devotion.

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