The “Riti Settennali di Penitenza” is a traditional penitential rite taking place in the southern Italian town of Guardia Sanframondi every seven years. It is the largest self-punishment rite in the Western world.
A series of processions starts in the week following the Assumption, when more than thousand men (and sometimes women), dressed in white and wearing hoods to hide their identifies, beat their chests and strike their backs with spiked metal instruments, believing they can reconcile their sin with God. The final procession, on Sunday, is the most striking and crowded: everything is absolutely intense and happens since centuries without relevant changes and with the same absorption and involvement from the people.
All the rite, including the “Mysteries” (parades of people dressed as characters from the Bible or recent religious episodes) honors the discovery of a Mary and Child statue in a field hundreds of years ago.
The white-hooded men, who are not even supposed to tell family members they are participating, are very offish and reserved. They don’t want to discuss their feelings and do not want people to interfere in what they have chosen to do. So it’s very hard to get in touch with them out of the processions or in moments of meditation.
The phenomenon continues to grow as more and more people take part in the penitential rite. The next one will be in 2017.