If you are a regular visitor to Italy you are likely to be familiar with the phenomenon of saints’ day festivals, particularly in the smaller towns. These are events that involve the whole community, often with feasting and fireworks, the centrepiece being the procession of a sacred image around the town. Vico del Gargano is no exception, with several festivals throughout the year, starting with the festival of “oranges and love” on 14 February (St Valentine being the town’s patron saint). We were there at the beginning of May when the Festa di Santa Maria Pura took place, and went off in search of the procession.
The Church of Santa Maria Pura
This festival started thirty years ago and involves two processions – one in the morning and another in the evening. We caught our first glimpse of the festivities when two red-jacketed musicians stopped for coffee in the bar where we were eating breakfast. Soon afterwards we saw (and heard!) the band marching past the café but – alas – it had disappeared before I had time to grab my camera.
A poster advertises the festival of Santa Maria Pura in Vico del Gargano
Later we walked down the hill towards the Church of Santa Maria Pura, built a little way beyond the city walls. We stopped to look at two tableaux outside the church: one of these showed a miracle performed by Santa Maria, in which she restored the speech and hearing of a deaf and dumb shepherd boy.
Outside the church is a tableau showing the miracle of the Virgin and the shepherd boy who she cured
Preparations had already started for the feasting that would take place later in the day and people were busily setting up stalls in the church courtyard.
Preparations for the evening’s barbeque have already been started
Here the statue of the Virgin is in its rightful place inside the church
Searching for the Procession
We weren’t sure which route the evening procession would take so we went back to the church after dinner. There was lots more activity now: a stall selling religious items had appeared by the church door and the ladies of the church were trying to get the barbeque going ready for the feasters. Some people couldn’t wait for the barbeque and were sitting outside a burger van that had camped half way down the hill.
Workmen were hammering fireworks into position for the display that would start once darkness fell and, looking up the hill to the old town, we could see people already lining the town walls in readiness for the celebrations. But there was no sign of the procession and we wondered if we had mistaken the time. We walked slowly back towards the town, being briefly diverted by the sight of a man herding a flock of sheep and goats down the hill.
No sign of a procession, but some sheep and goats instead (as well as a dog!)
We had just resigned ourselves to having missed the main activity when we saw the road closed in front of us and a policeman stopping the traffic. A few moments later we heard the band, and the procession came towards us, proudly carrying the Madonna. Finally a chance for me to grab some pictures!
The statue of the Virgin is carried through the streets
The procession is followed by the band and by a large crowd!