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San Biagio, panettone and other traditions

The relationship of many Italian believers with the universe of Saints is rather curious, made of exaggerated expectations, ancestral rites and manifestations with rather secular contours


In every city and village of Italy there are patron saints and protectors who are venerated in a more or less unique and sincere way. In some cases there are large public demonstrations, bonfires, strange races or dedicated recipes. Over the centuries stories and legends have created around the Saints mystical auras and bizarre traditions, of which you can not always grasp the origin and modern sense.

Leafing through the calendar, January 17 celebrates the patron saint of animals and farmers, namely Saint Anthony Abbot: an Egyptian hermit who abandoned everything to move to the shores of the Red Sea. At the beginning his miracles were linked to the fire of Saint Anthony precisely, a disease that he would have cured by putting pig lard on the skin. Since then it has been a long time and over the centuries the relationship with animals has evolved and improved so much that on that occasion the quadrupeds more or less hairy, but also the bipeds with the same characteristics, can be led inside the sacred places to be blessed.

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Un post condiviso da Don Cosimo Schena (@doncosimoschena)

To confirm the contamination between sacred and profane, it seems that on the night of January 16th and 17th, pets have the opportunity to speak: a miracle that would bring luck to humans, but only to those who do not eavesdrop on the conversations of dogs, cats, advice, squirrels and the like.

The anniversary of February 3rd, the feast of San Biagio in Milan, is doubly dedicated to the gorge, for a reinterpretation of the original legend. It also represents a kind of active celebration of policies against food waste, since on that occasion, and under the high patronage of the Saint, all the advanced panettone are disposed of, in the household pantries as well as in supermarkets. Tradition and legend want in fact that, in an indefinite time in the past, a friar did not find time to treat the panettone given to him by a believer to be blessed.

The friar, since the owner of the Christmas candy seemed to have forgotten about the delivery, ate it all. When finally the faithful came back to claim the panettone - it seems it was February 3rd - the religious discovered that inside the package appeared a new, huge, sweet leavened. And this explains only one of throat calls, understood in this sense as a desire for tasty food. The other reference, to health and sore throats, refers to the oldest part of the story of Biagio not yet Saint: an Armenian bishop martyr, who would have saved a child who had a herring bone in his throat. Gorge that then precisely over the centuries also assumed a wider meaning and strictly linked to the desire to feed.

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Un post condiviso da Lievitando (@_lievitando_)

Also on 3 but also on 5 February is celebrated the encore of the patrons of Venaus, in Val di Susa. Here the patron saints San Biagio and Sant'Agata are honored with the usual processions and religious services which is accompanied by a moment of folklore quite peculiar: the dance of swords, that no, is not the mazurka of the sword of Pugsley family Addams. In this case it is 4 dancers with a characteristic flowery hat, bodices decorated with damask and ribbons, white shirts and black trousers. Armed with long swords, the Spadonari della Valle di Susa perform a particular choreography, focused on four movements: point, diamonds, hearts and jump. The link between all this sparkle of blades (halfway between the medieval sword and the Japanese katana) and the 2 saints is not entirely obvious and the dance of the swords seems to refer to the raids Saracens of the tenth century.

The second month of the year is full of festivals and patrons. In fact, February 14 is also celebrated Valentine’s Day, Saint of love that according to legend was the first to celebrate the union between a Roman legionary and a Christian woman. Valentine is the Patron of Terni and every year dozens of couples participate in the celebration of the love promise of boyfriends in the basilica of Valentine. This year the celebration can count on a further update, on an updated reading we say. The new mayor has in fact explained, during a session of the City Council, that normally a man, when a beautiful woman passes, looks at the cxxo, tries and if the tromxx can as well.

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Un post condiviso da pizzaiolo_simo (@pizzacatering_finito)

The relationship between saints, animals and believers also animates the rituals for the feast of Saint Dominic, celebrated in Cocullo, Abruzzo. At the center of the event and religious celebrations there are snakes and snakes. Legend and tradition refer to a holy man who, before leaving the country - evidently hit by the scourge of poisonous reptiles - gave the inhabitants his molar tooth and an iron of his mule, as protection from poison and various wound attacks. 

Saint Dominic thus becomes the protector and healer from poisonous bites and rabid beasts: during the celebration of May 1 the statue of the saint, adorned with live snakes, is carried in procession. Then women, men and boys queue up to take soil from a small cave located behind the altar and then grab a string with their teeth to ring the church bell three times.

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Un post condiviso da MUSEO DI SAN MARCO Firenze (@museodisanmarco)

Also in that month, May 15, in Gubbio there is the historic and very sensitive festival/ procession, namely the Race of Candles, whose protagonists are Sant'Ubaldo (patron of masons), San Giorgio (protector of the merciai) and Sant'Antonio Abate (protector of donkeys and farmers). 

Large and heavy machines, dominated by the statues of the Saints, are carried on the shoulders and run through the streets of the city to the Basilica of Sant'Ubaldo, on the summit of Mount Ingino. The peculiarity of the event, crowded and very colorful, is that it is not a real race, in the sense that the starting order will be the same as the arrival, except finally measure with appropriate rituals of what the first distance the others.

As it happens in other situations, the original religious sense of the recurrence has faded slightly over time and a good part of the capital sins can easily be found, in dialogues and actions, during the course of the Race.

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Un post condiviso da IL BRESCIANO MALMOSTOSO® (@ilbrescianomalmostoso)

No race but a slow, slow walk to Saint Lucia, which in Syracuse is celebrated with round trip, on 13 and 20 December, 2 days dedicated to the patron saint martyred on 13 December 304. Legend has it that to satisfy a suitor who had fallen in love with her and the beauty of her eyes, Lucia took them away and gave him a gift by grace receiving other 2, more beautiful than those she had deprived. This led to his murder during the persecution of Diocletian. The procession of the Relics that cross the city lasts many hours and perhaps the most unique detail of the traditional Syracuse event is that the procession that accompanies the carriage is dressed in eighteenth-century clothes, with wig and livery. The procession probably continues to Versailles.



Illustration by Gloria Dozio - Acrimònia Studios