Order of the parade
Characters from the Gospels
The historical characters
The legendary characters
The legendary characters
The legendary characters present in the procession of Holy Thursday embody the main feature of the Funziun di Giüdee and are distinguished into two categories, namely those cited in the apocryphal Gospels who have thus entered the popular tradition, and those entirely invented by the people of Mendrisio. The apocryphal writings of the middle ages (like the legend entitled Mors Pilati) have yielded, for example, the character of Veronica, a pious woman who dried the face of the Lord, whose features remained impressed on the cloth she displays throughout the play. Actually the woman's name indicates the object she carries, precisely the «actual icon,» the genuine image of the face of the Christ. The Roman soldier Longinus who walks ahead of the group of the Christ and who is supposed to have pierced Jesus' side with his spear to ascertain that he was dead is present in the apocryphal Gospels (precisely in the Gospel of Nicodemus or Acts of Pilate).
Other figures have been entirely invented. It is the case of Unginus, the Roman soldier who drags Jesus with a rope tied to the cross, and holds a peach blossom branch like a whip. And again, the cup bearer, a boy who quenches the Messiah's thirst during the climb to Calvary, symbolising the tradition of the time that is also mentioned in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew of offering a drink of a mixture of wine and myrrh that would narcotise those who were sentenced to death in view of the atrocious pain of the crucifixion.
The axe bearer should, instead, be a popular invention applied to the figure of the teacher of justice (the executioner) who perhaps participated in the procession during the period of the Italian Bailiwicks. The following too lack historical reference, precisely the Jewish youth with nails and hammers (a hint at the crucifixion) who open the parade, the two cross bearers who accompany the thieves and the Moors, attired with earrings and turbans surmounted by the Muslim half moon, thus artfully representing Herod's sumptuous eastern court where we also find a High Priest, identified by the tables of the law he carries in his lap but which proves to be an obvious repetition. As a matter of fact, Caiaphas, who was the High Priest during the years of the crucifixion of Jesus, and his predecessor Anna can be clearly seen a little while before.
The most mysterious character of all is the knight called Nascia, who parades soon after the group of the Christ. Nascia, whose figure is unknown both in the Gospels and in the popular tradition, rides a horse in the company of a child who holds his waist and has a silver stone in the hand. The only theory presented to explain the presence of this strange pair is that the boy represents one of the many urchins who, during the executions, threw stones at those sentenced to be crucified who walked down the streets of Jerusalem towards Calvary.