Festa dei Serpari

Festa dei Serpari

Festival of the Snakes, Festa dei Serpari

Festa dei Serpari

Festa dei Serpari is an annual festival celebrated since 2012 always on May 1 in the picturesque village of Cocullo in the province of Aquila in Abruzzo, Italy. This festival has a rich history and combines ancient customs with Catholic tradition.

The origins of the festival go back to the Marsians, an Etruscan people who thousands of years ago worshipped snakes and adored the fertility goddess Angizia. In the 16th century, these pagan customs merged with the Catholic religion when people began to worship St. Domenic. Domenikus was a Capuchin monk from the region who is considered the patron saint of farmers and shepherds. Various legends are attributed to him, including the transformation of poisonous snakes into fish to save the region from a plague.

The festivities begin around noon with a traditional prayer walk. Four men carry a life-size wooden statue of St. Domenic out of the church and place it in the piazza in front of the church, where the snake catchers decorate it with the snakes captured in the days before. The behavior of these snakes during the procession is interpreted as a prediction of the coming harvest. When they wrap around the head and shoulders of the saint, good weather and a successful harvest are expected. However, if they creep toward the lower body or even get into the robe of the saint, misfortune threatens.

A brass band accompanies the pilgrimage procession as it moves through the narrow streets of the village and across the surrounding fields. Police officers ensure that a narrow aisle in the crowd remains clear. The faithful fix their eyes on the statue of St. Domenic, some pray and cross themselves. Children are lifted on shoulders to get a better view of what is happening.

During the festival, mobile vendors offer for sale shrink-wrapped imitation snakes and postcards with snake motifs. In the local bakery visitors can enjoy “Serpente Dolce” and “Cervone”, snake-shaped pastries decorated with green eyes and red tongue.

In the early evening the pilgrimage returns to the church and the procession ends. Exhausted worshippers touch the statue’s robe and their own foreheads one last time before San Domenico is freed from the snakes. Some of the snakes have now hidden under the tables of the festive community.

The night belongs to the winners of the snake catching. One of the highlights is the honoring of the snake catchers, where awards are given to those who have caught the longest snake, the one with the most beautiful back pattern, or the most adders.

The “Rito Festa dei Serpari” of Cocullo is a fascinating festival that represents a unique combination of faith, tradition and nature, attracting thousands of people from all over the world every year.

Photo © yesabruzzo.com