Festa dei Serpari

One of the serpari extends her snake to the inquisitive crowd.

Cocullo (province of L’Aquila in Abruzzo) – They are creatures that have slithered through the pages of the Bible ever since Eve took a bite from an apple. Some people loathe them, others react in fear, but here in the town of Cocullo on the 1st Thursday of May, thousands flock from all over Italy and from far corners of the globe to witness the procession of San Domenico Abate and the snake catchers.

The folk celebration of the snake catchers/charmers (serpari) has ballooned into cult-like proportions which have definitely crossed the line from tradition to tourist attraction. Seriously, this thing was huge! Two weeks ago to the hour it was standing room only in Cocullo, and from my point of view, the sheer magnitude of people (over 20,000 according to tourism figures) was stupefying. The appearance of the writhing reptiles were, thankfully, none of the poisonous types. This is not your average gig from smallville. This is myth, miracles and old beliefs all intertwined in one spellbinding occasion. I quote verbatim from the information placard next to the church:

“According to legend, when the Benedictine abbot reached Cocullo, it was being invaded by venomous snakes and the Saint used his flute to gather together all the reptiles, charming them and rendering them harmless. . .”

Did you just say harmless?

We arrived well in advance to be on the safe side but in the distance, long lines of cars could be seen on the motorway from both directions. Parking was a nightmare (and 2 miles away) so we made our way to town on foot. Coming from a place where there are no snakes at all, it was a bit of shock to witness an attendance so grand where snakes are part of the norm. I suggest this webpage – The Serpari festival in Cocullo – for an interesting introduction to this chapter of Abruzzese culture.

Large ciambelle pastries carried in baskets atop the heads of women in traditional attire and San Domenico wreathed in serpents.


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