Living like a Local, Witnessing the Leather Jesus: Palazzo Donati, Mercatello sul Metauro
In Italy’s Marche region, along the Metauro River, is the tiny town of Mercatello. In the thirteenth century, a local ruler invited seven noble families to build palazzi around the central square. One of those buildings, Palazzo Donati, is owned by the Donati family, who also have a piece of land outside town where you can visit the tower that Dante stayed in during his exile (a Donati family member is featured in Il Purgatorio, on the sixth terrace, where the gluttonous are punished with a constant parade of good food they can never eat -- but hey, salvation awaits in book three!). The Donati maintain their imposing stone palazzo as a vacation property, and it’s an ancient though fully operational household with several bedrooms (three with private baths), rustic kitchen with modern appliances, and a grand dining room. Staying at Palazzo Donati is about as close as many of us will ever come to living like a local. During Easter weekend, you can also witness a procession starring a life-sized mannequin of Jesus, constructed of flesh-like leather (moveable arms and legs), who is put on the cross Thursday night and removed early on Good Friday. The vibe seems deeply medieval, and one can’t help but feel pulled in by the devotion of Mercatello’s citizens, every one of whom shows up, marching in the streets and standing solemnly in the church to celebrate the longed-for resurrection and the inevitable (one must assume) arrival of spring.