The article titled "A Statue Draped With Snakes: The Rite of the Snake Charmers in Italy" takes readers on a captivating journey to the small village of Cocullo in Italy. Held annually on May 1st, the Rito dei Serpari, or Rite of the Snake Charmers, is a remarkable Catholic celebration paying homage to San Domenico, a saint credited with removing snakes from farmers' fields. This ancient ritual, rooted in the worship of the goddess Angitia, showcases a unique fusion of religion, folklore, and science. Photographer Elisabetta Zavoli and writer Francesco Martinelli provide a fascinating glimpse into the festival, exploring the hunt for snakes, the snake-themed procession, and the impact of this tradition on the community and its perception of these enigmatic creatures.
Overview of the Rite of the Snake Charmers in Cocullo
The Rite of the Snake Charmers in Cocullo is a traditional Catholic celebration held annually on May 1 in the village of Cocullo in Italy's Abruzzo region. The festival is dedicated to San Domenico, a Catholic saint believed to have the power to remove snakes from farmers' fields. The festival has deep historical and cultural significance, with roots that trace back to ancient snake-worshipping practices in the region. The event involves snake catchers and charmers, known as serpari, who hunt for snakes in the days leading up to the festival and then drape them over a wooden statue of San Domenico. The festival attracts both locals and tourists, offering a unique experience that combines religion, folklore, and scientific research.
The History and Origins of the Rite
The origins of the Rite of the Snake Charmers in Cocullo are believed to be rooted in ancient snake-worshipping practices that were widespread in central and southern Italy. While the exact historical origins of the festival are not well-documented, it is thought to have ancient roots in the worship of the goddess Angitia, who was associated with snakes. Over time, the festival became associated with the Catholic saint San Domenico, who is credited with removing snakes from local farmers' fields. Today, the festival is a blend of ancient pagan traditions and Catholicism, reflecting the cultural history of the region.
The Catholic Celebration of San Domenico
The Rite of the Snake Charmers in Cocullo is a Catholic celebration held in honor of San Domenico. San Domenico is a beloved saint in the region, known for his mythical ability to remove snakes from farmers' fields. The festival takes place on May 1 each year, and it attracts thousands of visitors from both within Italy and abroad. The Catholic celebration involves a procession in which the wooden statue of San Domenico is draped with live snakes. This act is believed to bring good luck and protect against snake bites. The celebration is a unique blend of religious devotion, folklore, and cultural heritage.
The Role of the Serpari: Snake Catchers and Charmers
The serpari play a central role in the Rite of the Snake Charmers in Cocullo. These individuals are skilled snake catchers and charmers who hunt for snakes in the days leading up to the festival. The serpari have specialized knowledge of the region's snake population and use various techniques to capture the snakes safely. Once the snakes are caught, they are carefully handled and prepared for the festival. During the procession, the serpari are responsible for draping the live snakes over the wooden statue of San Domenico. Their role is crucial in preserving the tradition and ensuring the safety of the snakes and participants.
Preparing for the Festival: Snake Hunting
In the days leading up to the Rite of the Snake Charmers, the serpari embark on hunting expeditions to catch snakes for the festival. They venture into the surrounding mountains and search for different species of snakes, such as the four-lined snake. These hunts require patience, as the serpari carefully overturn rocks and peer into thick brush to find hidden snakes. The serpari also enlist the help of local children who learn the art of snake catching and participate in the festival. The snake hunting process is not only a practical necessity but also a way to pass down traditions and engage the community in the festivities.
The Procession and Statue Draping
The highlight of the Rite of the Snake Charmers is the procession and statue draping. The festival reaches its peak at noon on May 1 when the wooden statue of San Domenico is lifted into the air above the crowd. The statue is then skillfully draped with live snakes by the serpari. This ancient ritual symbolizes the power of San Domenico to ward off snakes and protect the community. As the snakes slither over the statue, participants and onlookers witness a unique blend of religion, folklore, and cultural heritage. The procession is accompanied by music, bagpipe players, and the town band, creating a festive and lively atmosphere.
The Festivities: Music, Dancing, and Folklore
The Rite of the Snake Charmers is not only a religious event but also a celebration of local folklore and culture. Following the procession and statue draping, the festival participants and visitors engage in various festivities. Music plays a central role, with traditional songs and performances filling the air. People dance in traditional costumes, and young women proudly display snakes in their hands. The festival is also an opportunity to share stories and legends passed down through generations, preserving the rich cultural heritage of the region. The festiviti