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2/29/2012

COCULLO. THE GODDESS ANGIZIA AND HER SERPARI

Serpente or serpe is the Italian name of the snake.
And there’s an ancient traditional festival of the snakes and men in Cocullo, a small town in Abruzzo, in the mountains of Marsica and Pelino, 870 meters above sea level.
A country that counts just under 300 people which always had a sacred bond with the snakes.
This holiday is called “Festa dei serpari” (feast of  the snake catchers).


In honor of the patron saint, Dominic of Foligno (protector of those who are bitten by snakes, a medieval Saint which is dedicated one of the two churches in the little town) a special rite, halfway between Paganism and Christianity, is celebrated every first thursday of May .


The ritual has pre-Roman origins, and is connected with the worship of the goddess Angizia (Angitia, in Latin), venerated by the ancient peoples of Fucino, the Marsi and Peligni.
Testimony are the discoveries of statues dedicated to this goddess, at some archaeological sites in the area of the Marsi.


Goddes Angizia
Angizia was the sorceress of healing with herbs, but also the goddess of snakes, dominating them; she was able to take care of their bites. Often the Romans identified her with Bona Dea (the Great Mother), a deity whose name could not be pronounced. 


Preparations for the festival, came down to us from ancient local populations, starting in early spring, when the snake catchers go to the mountains and fields to search for snakes, all harmless or whose bite can only cause a slight irritation.
The captured snakes are placed in wooden boxes (once were used clay pots) and kept alive until the day of the feast.


On that day, at dawn, pilgrims arrive in the country from places of worship of St. Dominic, from Molise, Lazio and Campania.
Then they approach the church with face emotion, singing  holy hymns.
Waiting for the procession, the snake catchers stay outside the church with their animals.




 
Then the snakes are placed on the statue of the saint, taking care that the face is not covered.
If this happens, even unintentionally, is a sign of bad omens.


Participants walk in the procession through the streets of Cocullo, accompanied by the band of the country, until they reach the top of the village.
To the bearer of the banner and the four bearers of the statue will be delivered some ciambellat, traditional donuts made of thick sweet paste.



Behind the procession there’s a group of girls dressed in traditional clothes of Abruzzo, delivering the donuts.



It is said that, if during transport the statue some snakes will fall to the ground, there will be a poor agrarian year.
If, however, the snakes are all on top of the saint the year will be prosperous.

At the end of the tour, pilgrims return to church, attending a second ceremony.
There, the faithful people goes behind the altar to collect a handful of soil, which is then spread around the houses of the country, to protect them from snakes. 


 
This is a special blessed soil, which is stored in a small cave located behind the niche of the saint.




Those from Atina,  at the sound of bagpipes and shawms, sing a pledge:
"Goodbye San Domenico / we are departing / and give us a license / holy blessing."
Then the pilgrims start walking backwards, looking always to face the Holy One, until they get out of the country.


And the snakes?
Until a few years ago were to be killed on the square before the church of San Domenico, but over time this cruel practice has been eliminated now the animals are released at the point where they were found, or are sold to some tourists. 



Personally I think that snakes should be left in peace. 
We must have more respect for Mother Nature.





TIMBALLO DI FUNGHI E RISO
Noun of mushrooms and rice

Serves 6
500 gr. rice
300 gr. Mushroom
200 gr. of tomato sauce
2 eggs
1/2 onion, finely chopped
a little bit of celery made into small pieces
garlic and parsley 
Cut the mushrooms into thin slices and put them to cook with oil, a clove of garlic, celery, onion and parsley.
Cook gently to about 1/2 hour, then add the tomato sauce and complete cooking for another half hour.
Boil rice and drain it, add the beaten eggs and mix all.
Take a pan previously greased with butter and arrange a layer of rice over which is placed the sauce.
Add another layer of rice and then one of gravy. Continue this way until you full the pan of rice, and mushrooms gravy. Add a little 'butter and put it in the oven to brown.




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