Saturday, 15 October 2011

The serpent Saint and an almost unbelievable festival

This week in the bank and in the dentist's chair I have been entertained by snake stories which brought to mind a wonderful story I heard many years ago. This concerned a religious festival which took place each year in a small village near Sulmona, a town in the Abruzzo a mountainous province in Southern Italy. The Saint in whose honour the festival took place was St Dominic who has always been associated with snakes. For weeks before the Festival the snake catchers would hunt the snakes in the mountains and bring them back alive. If they were dangerous they would make them attack a piece of rough material which would then be dragged quickly away pulling out their teeth. Before the Mass commenced the faithful parishioners pinned lira notes on the Saint and two women brought in large baskets covered with flowers and placed them on each side of the statue. When the Mass was over several strong men lifted the Saint shoulder high and paraded him around the town accompanied by a brass band. The lure of the music was too much for the snakes who crawled out from under the flowers and entwined themselves around St Dominic. Some dropped off to be replaced or wound around the arms and necks of the faithful. The statue continued on its merry way in a confusion of money and serpents until it reached the church doors again. Where those snakes went I dont know though one onlooker on his way back to Rome in the bus felt a slight movement in his coat pocket. Of course it was an escapee. He dislodged it onto the floor of the bus which stopped at several tourist stops before the Rome depot where the snake was nowhere to be seen. It could still be living quite comfortably in the Coloseum on those juicy Roman rats. Who knows?

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