Feast of the Serpari (Snake Festival) in Italy (Part Three – the Roman Catholic Twist – Still Celebrated Today)
By Judy Pinegar
But along came the Roman Catholic Church, who could not approve of such paganism, so we now have the Festival of Saint Dominic (who is the patron saint of the town of Cocullo). Saint Dominic is of course known for many other things, the greatest of which was founding the Dominican order within the Catholic Church. However this legend has the village fields overrun with snakes, and when Saint Dominic cleared the fields of snakes the villagers of Cocullo came up with a lasting show of gratitude, where the effigy of Saint Domenic is draped in snakes and paraded around in May of each year, also known as the Feast of the Serpari. The snakes are primarily of the local variety, four-lined aesculapian, grass and green whip snakes, and are released into the fields at the end of the day. (Humm, I guess we need Saint Dominic to come back and clear the fields again!)
But on feast day the statue is draped in snakes and carried around the town, while many people also allow themselves to be draped with snakes as well. Of course the snakes are all non-poisonous, or have had their fangs removed, but this is not a festival for the faint of heart or anyone with a snake phobia! The festival is held to seek the Saint’s protection from snake bite.
It is believed that the snakes, once on the statue can predict the future. The people in attendance watch the snake behavior carefully. According to custom, if the snakes wind around the head of the statue it is a good sign. But if they go in the direction of the arms or body something bad is ahead.
This is a video of the current day celebration
Judy Pinegar is a writer. Part of this three part series appeared in the Corriere della Valle Magazine
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