or sometimes on March 19, May 1...
Saint of the day:
Saint Domenico di Sora
Patron Saint of protector against the bite of snakes and hydrophobic dogs,
against storm and hail and against toothache and fever
Saint Domenico di Sora’s Story
St Dominic of Sora (951-1032) was born in Foligno. He became Benedictine monk and founded a number of hermitages in Central Italy. The reforming Pope John XVIII (1003-9) placed these foundations under papal protection. The last of them was at Sora (in Lazio), where he died. His relics are preserved in what is now the Basilica Minore di San Domenico Abate in Sora.
The miracles for which St Dominic was remembered included the cure of snake bites. A statue of him is draped with live snakes and taken in procession at Colcullo (in the Abruzzo) during a feast celebrated in the warm month of May.
A Story of Snakes, a Goddess, a Roman God and a Saint
There are three supposed origins to the Cocullo Snake Festival… In the C11th apparently Saint Dominic cleared the local fields which were being overrun by snakes, and as a sign of thanks since 1392 the locals parade his statue and snakes around the streets. The second version dates to 700bc…. locals experienced the same problems in tending to their fields and Apollo ordered the village to entwine the snakes around his statue so that they would become tame and be able to farm once more. The first origin dates back some 3000 years to the Marsi who were the original inhabitants of the area who worshipped the Goddess Angitia. This goddess’s official symbol was a snake, and thus offerings of snakes were presented to her to fend off attacks from local wolves, bears and malaria and cure snake bites!
Catch a Snake
The festival officially begins on March 19th, when local snake catchers/charmers (serpari) around Cocullo begin to catch 4 types of local harmless snakes: (Elaphe quatuorlineata) and the Aesculapian snake (Elaphe longissima) and grass snakes (Natrix natrix) and its dark green sister snake (Coluber viridiflavus) .
On the Day
Following an early morning Mass in the town’s small church, local inhabitants ring a small bell using their own teeth to protect them against toothache for the following year. Local soil is blessed which afterwards is spread over the local fields to act as a form of natural pesticide. The wooden statue of Saint Domenico is then taken out of the small church and the serpari drape their found snakes over the statue and his jewel-encrusted gold frame ready to be paraded around the narrow lanes of ancient Cocullo.
Leading from the front are the brass band, which ironically seems to be mostly composed of those most snake charmer-esque of instruments, the oboe & clarinets. Another Mass is broadcast over loudspeakers, which women traditionally dressed recite & sing, followed by sombre priests. They are followed by girls in traditional laced costumes carrying ciambelli which are local cakes that have a texture like doughnuts and are decorated with pastel-colored hundreds & thousands. Saint Dominic carries up the behind, his tamed snakes still entwined and their charmers following closely behind. The procession winds back down to the church where it all started, and on their arrival home, a huge banging fireworks display which sounds more like cannon shots begins its 10-minute overture.
If you love something out of the ordinary visit the Cocullo’s snake festival!