Festa Dei Serpari (The Procession of the Snake-Catchers)
When: 01 May 2016
Where: Cocullo, Italy
If you happen to suffer from ophidiophobia (the fear of snakes), the Italian town of Cocullo in Abruzzi, Italy, shouldn't figure on your itinerary anywhere during the first Thursday in May, every year. On the first Thursday in May every year, Cocullo celebrates snakes in a big way- even though what the inhabitants of this little town actually celebrate is their patron saint, St Dominick.
San Domenico Abate (as he's locally known) lived in the 10th and 11th centuries, and stories of his miraculous healing powers- especially over snakebite- abound in local legend. Ten centuries down the line, Saint Dominick's powers may not be as potent, but the natives of Cocullo still revere him- and in befitting style too, by draping his statue in- of all things- live snakes. The Festa Dei Serpari ('serpari' means 'snake-catchers') begins with a somewhat subdued and reverent church service, followed by a procession through the streets of Cocullo. Cocullo's serpari generally capture dozens of snakes in the weeks preceding the festival. The snakes' fangs are removed, and on the day of the festival the serpari drape both themselves and their beloved saint's statue with the reptiles. The statue is ceremonially taken through the streets of Cocullo by the serpari, along with the town clergy and a group of group of girls clad in special costumes decorated with a local doughnut-like bread called ciambelli. Ciambelli resembles a snake biting its own tail and originated in the old tradition of killing and cooking the snakes at the end of the festival.
The Festa Dei Serpari ends with the snakes being released in the fields surrounding Cocullo, so it's a good idea to give the countryside around Cocullo a wide berth for a week or so after!