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A Traditional Italian Wedding at a 12th-Century Abbey

by Staff

Julia DiCesare and Jake Furnari’s love story began with a wedding—their best friends’, that is. As were members of a wedding party in November 2018, they were bound to connect. Coincidentally, they were both in the same graduating class at the University of Florida, but they never knew one another while in school. As fate would have it, they finally crossed paths years later. Their connection was so strong that Jake proposed to Julia at Isola di Vulcanello, an island off the coast of his ancestral town of Furnari in Sicily, Italy, the following year.

Right off the bat, the couple knew they wanted to host a destination wedding in Orvieto, Italy to share the culture and tranquil lifestyle with 80 of their loved ones. “I didn’t want an overly big wedding,” Julia shares. “I wanted to create an experience for my closest people in a place that slows down life and allows for quality time with the people who mean most to us.” They chose to throw down at La Badia di Orvieto due to its exquisite architecture, long-standing history, and personal connection to the bride. “Twenty years prior, my late grandfather, Pappa, brought my family there during a family trip to Italy,” Julia recounts. “It was the last time we were all together in Italy as a family. La Badia offered both fond memories and new beginnings.”

After narrowing down the location, the duo booked their venue in February 2020, a month before the pandemic led to shutdowns. Luckily, Julia and Jake’s venue never canceled and the couple never had to postpone their nuptials. But due to travel restrictions, they had no other choice but to plan their big day from overseas. “There was no way for me to walk the venue, do site inspections, taste the food, see where guests would be staying—everything that mattered,” Julia explains. Although they weren’t able to enjoy the typical wedding planning experience, there was a silver lining: the two formed strong bonds with their vendors—a team of local artisans and creatives. “I trusted them,” Julia says. “They were all local and made most of the decisions for me.”

On Saturday, September 4, 2021, the pair finally tied the knot, following a traditional Italian rehearsal dinner on Thursday and all-white welcome party on Friday. “After a year-and-a-half of lockdown and uncertainty, there was a collective appreciation of just how fortunate we were to be in Italy, surrounded by beauty, friendship, and love,” they reflect. Read on to see how their vision came to life, with planning by Chechic!Weddings and photography by Lisa Poggi.

For their aesthetic, Julia envisioned a romantic event that transported guests back in time and into the heart of Italy. “My vision was to connect my family and friends to my culture—true Italy,” the bride says. “We viewed the destination wedding not solely as a wedding, but also as a three-day guest experience that reflected the couple and the charm of Italy. We knew this was where we felt most connected to our heritage, and our guests could feel intimate, spirited, and surrounded by love.” To capture the essence of their celebration, the bride and groom sent deckle-edged invitations that highlighted their locale.

To give their friends and family a true Italian experience, the couple kicked off their weekend with a rehearsal dinner at Torre Collevento, a villa surrounded by vineyards. Guests dined on local Italian cuisine at tables topped with olive branches, grapes, and lavender from the garden. After each course, a loved one delivered a heartfelt speech. For the event, Julia donned a long-sleeve dress with bold side cutouts and strappy heels, and Jake kept it simple in a blue jacket with khakis.

The following night, the bride and groom hosted a welcome party at Tenuta Ponziani, a private resort on top of a hill. The event had an all-white dress code, and the soon-to-be newlyweds brought their A-game. Julia sported a white getup featuring sheer balloon sleeves, side cutouts, and an open back, while Jake wore a white linen ensemble. Friends and family spent the evening sipping Aperol spritzes, noshing on pizza and gelato, listening to swing music, and taking a dip in the pool.

Before suiting up, Jake, his groomsmen, and all of the men in the family received a clean shave from local barber Dacci Un Taglio. “It was a unique touch to the day, and the guys loved it,” the couple recalls. Then, Jake put on a custom black tuxedo and accessorized with cufflinks that were inscribed with his initials.

Julia spent the morning getting glam. She went with an effortless makeup look—complete with Armani foundation and Bobbi Brown lipstick—and a romantic updo. “I knew I wanted something natural and not ‘too done.’ I knew I wanted my hair swept back in a low whimsical bun, so Jake could see my face when I walked down the aisle,” she explains. “I wanted to feel ‘me.’” She also read a touching letter from her soon-to-be husband before slipping into her gown.

I knew it was the one even before I put the veil on.

The bride stunned in a beaded Ines Di Santo dress with a plunging neckline and an open back. “I knew it was the one even before I put the veil on,” she shares. “When I put it on, I felt like I was in the chapel. It was the perfect mix of traditional with the beading but modern with the cut and illusion details.” For accessories, Julia wore an aquamarine heirloom ring from her grandmother for her “something blue,” her mother’s diamond bracelet for her “something borrowed,” and custom Maria Elena Headpieces earrings.

Although the bride and groom decided against doing a first look, Julia carved out a moment to reveal her attire to her father. 

The pair worked with Flowers Living to complement the 12th-century Romanesque church architecture. They decorated the entrance, aisle, and altar with olive branches and dried wildflowers, including lunaria. According to the couple, the arrangements created “a space that was elegant and refined, but also warm and inviting.” It also emphasized the local herbage.

Sounds of the quintessential processional song, “Canon in D” by Pachelbel, drifted around the chapel while Julia and her father strode toward the altar. The couple recounts “Jake was filled with emotion” as his bride walked down the aisle. Julia’s bouquet of olive branches and wild Italian flowers matched the surrounding foliage.

The duo asked Father Fiorentino, a Vatican City priest, to conduct their ceremony, which included special prayers and Bible readings that family and friends read aloud. The bride and groom stuck with traditional vows for their Catholic Mass.

After their first peck as newlyweds, Julia and Jake recessed to the Italian song “Allegro Maestoso.” Once they exited the church, guests showered them with olive branches and dried flower petals, which is an Italian wedding tradition.

Julia’s bridesmaids coordinated in toffee satin gowns with a cowl neck, paired with neutral heels and earrings that resembled an olive branch. Jake’s groomsmen stood by his side in classic tuxedos. 

Instead of trading personalized vows during the ceremony, the newlyweds decided to recite the promises that they wrote to one another after they became husband and wife. “After the ceremony, we read private vows to each other with no one in the chapel—no videographer, no photographer,” they share. “This was a private moment before we went to the reception, and it was the most special moment of the day—just us two with a few minutes to ourselves as husband and wife.” Then, they met up with their photographer, Lisa Poggi, to snap portraits. 

While the couple took photos, guests headed over to cocktail hour, which featured a local Italian opera singer, a string quartet, food stations, and a beverage cart that served drinks topped off with popsicles. 

To highlight the ancient stone walls at their reception site, banquet tables topped with ivory linens, olive branches, wildflowers, and taper candles bordered the perimeter of the space. To capture the essence of the region, each place was set with vintage Italian goblets, linen napkins, and an olive branch. Crystal chandeliers towered above the setup and cast a warm glow over the evening. 

After making their grand entrance, the bride and groom swayed to “Say You Won’t Let Go” by James Arthur.

For dinner, the couple went with an Italian feast: an eggplant dish with olives and tomatoes topped with mozzarella basil cream, a Sagrantino wine risotto, and a veal rib served with herbal bread and vegetable puff pastry.

“Because we never did a walk-through or a food tasting, I forgot about the cake,” Julia admits. “The week of, I said, ‘Let’s do a simple cake with olive branches around the circumference.’” To the couple’s surprise, when the time came to cut their confection, two Italian men brought out a three-tier treat garnished with fruit. “It was the biggest, most beautiful cake we’d ever seen,” she gushes.

The newlyweds and their guests spent the rest of the evening dancing to live music from The Shakes Live Band, who played tunes by Etta James, Billie Holiday, and Bruno Mars. Once the clock struck midnight, everyone continued the celebration at a nightclub inside of a cave room until 3 a.m. 

From the sentimental speeches at their rehearsal dinner to the upbeat music at their nightclub after-party, the couple made sure to enjoy every moment rather than worry about perfecting the weekend. “Someone once told me, you don’t remember the details, but you remember how you felt at the wedding,” Julia shares. “Focus on the atmosphere—family, loved ones, a sacred time when all of the people you love most will be together with you. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to just soak in the people who are closest to you.”

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