During the Maundy Thursday procession, called in the local dialect Funziun di Giüdée (procession of the Jews), around 270 characters walk through the streets of the village, re-enacting the drama of Jesus Christ. The presence of around 40 horses, lackeys with torches, trumpeters and drummers contributes to the highly suggestive atmosphere.
The Funziun di Giüdee, the organisation of which was ensured by the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, might on the surface appear to be a kind of sacred representation of medieval origin. However, in common with what in France were called the mysteries, the Mendrisio event has only the thematic affinity (the Passion of Christ) and the scenic organisation (the costumes, which, on the occasion of the centenary, were commissioned from the tailor's at La Scala in Milan and of which the current ones are copies), while it differs in the lack of a script and dialogue between the characters, who limited themselves to expressing themselves through gestures and silent attitudes.
Moreover, the name Funziun di Giüdee already seems to recall in a satirical, irreverent and almost carnivalesque tone the actual liturgical ceremonies such as Vespers.
Contributing to the more profane dimension of the Maundy Thursday event was above all the "group of Jews", who used to gather in the afternoon before the parade and roam the streets of the Magnifico Borgo in search of the Christ to whom they would put the cross. The unruly shouting and over-the-top behaviour of the Jewish crowd, judged unsuitable for the solemn celebration, was the focus of numerous complaints throughout the 19th century and forced the organisers to issue a statement in 1895 indicating that the Town Hall forbids the Jewish crowd on Maundy Thursday to run through the town before the evening procession.
However, it was not only the figures who embodied the Jews who aroused the protests of those who wanted a more dignified procession. Even the two thieves and the Three Marys, traditionally impersonated by men completely wrapped in long black robes and guilty of faking "tears that moved to laughter", were often accused of drinking too much before the procession. The custom, then, was for the cup-bearer boy to offer real wine to Christ each time he fell, which did not help the sobriety of the event.
From 1898 onwards, the year in which the first centenary of the event was celebrated (the first official mention of which, however, dates back to 1697), the excesses diminished, the protests subsided and the performance took on a more serious aura.