Snakes on the loose in Cocullo, Italy

We’ve got another weird one here.

Today the small Italian town of Cocullo is celebrating its very special Feast of the Snake Catchers (festa dei serpari).

Every year, on the third Thursday in May, the townspeople of Cocullo gather to honor their patron Saint Domenico. How do they honor him? With live snakes.

Saint Domenico (San Domenico Abate, to the local residents) lived at the end of the 10th century. He was famous for his miraculous healing powers, especially his ability to cure snakebite. So…

In the weeks leading up the big day, the Cocullo snake-catchers (serpari) go out into the surrounding fields and do what they do best; they catch snakes. Then they remove the snakes’ fangs. Then, on the festival day, after a low-key church service, the snake-catchers march through the town covered in the live snakes. When they reach the statue of Saint Domenico, they drape the snakes all over him. Once the snakes are sufficiently writhing around the statue, the snake-catchers ceremonially carry their saint through the streets, accompanied by other clergymen and a group of girls in traditional costumes.

On this day, the townspeople eat special doughnut-like bread called ciambelli, which looks like a snake biting its own tail. These symbolize the tradition from the old days of cooking and eating the snakes at the end of the festival. In our more politically correct times, when all is said and done the snakes are released back into the fields. Fangless, but free.

Unlike some people, I don't have any real problem with snakes. I'd like to be in Cocullo someday to see this in person. In the meantime, I'll settle for this news report (Italian speakers will get more out of it).

Photo: Rubber Slippers in Italy via Flickr (CC license)

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