Giaglione, Alta Val di Susa – approximately 60 km west of Torino in this corner of Piemonte, the air is so fresh and the water so pure that an overnight stay in a little town left us feeling as if we had spent several days in total relaxation. The 3-hour drive from Lecco put us into an even colder, face-numbing environment that reminded me of the winterland setting of Narnia, but the reason for coming here was even better than the warm reception from our farmstay hosts. I wanted to learn more about the origins of La Danza degli Spadonari.
The origins of the dance aren’t very clear but a resident informed us that its ties most likely binds with ancient celtic religion. Some aspects of the characters mirror that of pagan rites to invoke the land’s fertility. For example il Bran (brahn), a tree-display decked out in a profusion of flowers, fruit and bright ribbons. It hints at procreation as does the symbolic maypole. Interesting that it was carried on the head of a young woman (see image below). The procession, led by the spadonari and followed by the town’s band and the rest of the court, was in honor of San Vincenzo, patron saint of Giaglione whose day of celebration is the 22nd of January.
Dressed in a costume consisting of a short-sleeved bodice, apron, and a hat embroidered with flowers and multicolored ribbons, the spadonari leads the procession before Sunday mass. Later they will carry out a display of predetermined steps and movements which includes the exchanging of swords by tossing them into the air.
le Priore and il Bran
The priore is made up of 6 women of the same township divided into three pairs of 2 single women, 2 young married women, and 2 mature women. In view of the pairs’ differences in ages and stages of life, it wouldn’t be far from the truth to say that they reflect the cycle of nature and revisit the roots of pre-Christian beliefs. The Bran, the decorated tree perched atop the woman’s head is about 2 meters / 6½ feet tall.
Sunday’s procession began at 10:30am, commencing from within the village and leading up towards the church. Mass is held for about one hour then there’s another short procession around the church, and lastly, a final dance performance by the spadonari.