There are lands that can still narrate tales of history and traditions and where is still possible to experience the sensation of our historical roots.
A mix of devotion and folklore to sooth the hearts and reconcile with nature, hoping that a furtive touch of the reptile's cold skin may be of protection until the following year. The procession takes place amid shouts of joy, music, prayers and recommendations, immerging participants in a timeless atmosphere animated by saints and healers.
Cocullo is a small village situated in the Peligna Valley in the Province of L'Aquila, between the towns of Avezzano and Sulmona, its origins are closely related to the Ancient Roman town of Koukoulon, situated between Cocullo village and Casale.
You can have breakfast in Rome at 7 am and be in Cocullo by 9.30 in time for the morning Mass.
Cocullo is known for his singular patron saint's holiday, named Festa dei Serpari, in which the patron saint's statue (Domenico di Sora) is transported in procession covered with lots of snakes (mainly four-lined, aesculapian, grass and green whip snakes).
The festival technically lasts for two months. It begins sometime in mid march with the capture of the snakes and goes on till the first week of May.
The reptiles themselves are transported in procession by local serpari, (a sort of "snake breeders"), and released in the surrounding woods at the end of the holiday.
The festival, set every first May since 2012 (in the past it took place every first Thursday in May), is a receptive event for thousands of Italian and foreign visitors.
Most of the pilgrims come from regions where the cult of San Domenico is most felt: Molise, Campania and Lazio.
The ceremony of snakes carried in procession together with the statue of the saint has ancient pagans origins.
In all likelihood goes back to the time when the goddess Angitia taught the Marsi tribes the use of antidotes .
Angitia was one of the three daughters of Aeëtes, along with Medea and Circe, two of the most famed sorceresses of Greek myth.
Angitia lived in the area around the Fucine lake and specialized in curing snake bites. Italicus identifies her as Medea.
Snakes were often associated with the healing arts in antiquity .
The Romans derived her name from anguis, "snake" hence the form Anguitia. The Marsa religion disappeared during the Middle Ages, but the beliefs about the healing powers of the snakes have been handed down to present days.
Contrary to what you might read on other web sites, the primitive ritual of sacrificing the snakes to the goddess Anguitia has been discontinued several years ago.
Today the snakes are being equipped with a microchip to learn about their habits (the only project in Europe) and to gather information on the local environment.
Some are sold to collectors and the poisonous ones (vipers) are sold to the pharmaceutical industry for the preparation of anti-poison serum.
In 2009 it was canceled due to some structural damages occurred into the village after the L'Aquila earthquake.
This tradition, present also in coat of arms symbolism, substituted the ancient Roman mythological ritual..
San Domenico is not only seen as a protector against snake bites, but as a savior from the evils of the modern world.
We can say, in summary, that our post-industrial kind of civilization, has thrown us into a kind of total uncertainty and a loss of identity especially among young people.
Below - The mother Church of St. Marie delle Grazie:
The return to the popular cults and religious rites is an attempt to recover the historical roots that belong to our past, a model to identify with, to help us regain once again confidence and that feeling of belonging.
The cult of St. Dominic of Sora goes back to the year 1000 when the Benedictine monk left in the local church one of his molars and one of a his mule iron horse shoe : the first, supposedly, heals from snake bite while the second protects animals from any danger.
The snake charmers
Costumes & traditions
The two girls dressed in a traditional costume are carrying sacred bread ("ciambelloni") to be shared with the statue porters at the end of the procession.
While religious function are being held inside the church, nearby other symbolic acts tale place, such as : pulling the chain of the church's doorbell with bare teeth to protect oneself from future toothaches.
...or collect a few fists of soil from behind the niche to spread later over the fields as an auspice for a good harvest in the upcoming year.
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