Feast of the Snake Catchers in Cocullo, Italy

For many, Cinco de Mayo is a day to appreciate Mexican heritage and pride. But in one village in Italy, today is a day to cover a patron saint with live snakes. I’m talking about the Feast of the Snake Catchers in Cocullo.

If you read this blog regularly, you know I like odd festivals. They happen all over Europe, most of them seemingly in small towns in Italy. Feast days are a big part of Italian culture.

Cocullo is a village of less than 300 people up in the Abruzzan hills (not too far from Rome). On the first Thursday in May, the town residents honor their patron saint (Saint Domenico) in an unusual way. They have a church service, and then afterwards the town’s serpari (snake catchers) drape the statue of the saint with live snakes and other reptiles.

The residents pay close attention to where the snakes slither. Sometimes the snakes twist around the statue’s head (a good omen). Sometimes they slither around the statue’s arms (a not as good omen). Many visitors come to town for the event, and a lot of them get their photos taken with snakes hanging around their heads and necks. It sounds like a fun day in Cocullo.

According to legend, Saint Domenico protects the residents of Cocullo from snakebites and toothache. Historically, at the end of the feast day the snakes would be burned on a pyre outside the local church. Thankfully, the ritual has been adapted to our more PETA-friendly times—since 1940, they just release the snakes into the fields. I’m glad for the snakes.

Photo: biancamaria_rizzoli via Flickr (CC)

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