Once upon a time there was the feast of the Madonna
“The early morning blasts”
He spent 2 days of ‘carousels’, installation of the lights that transformed all Corso Papa Giovanni, and a couple of musical evenings of bands of 2 ‘and even 3’ band, accompanied by the stalls of peanuts, nougat and paninari, on the morning of 5 August began with the bangs, the powerful ones, which woke up with a start, around 7.30, even the most sleepy of the boys, still in bed after the revels of the night before.
Past au furn, v’rrett ‘and m’nestra married
In homes, mothers and grandmothers had been cooking for a few hours now. The aromas of the lamb to be cooked on the grill, of the fried minced meat prepared for the ‘baked pasta’, ru ‘v’rrett’ and of the married soup, intoxicated the streets, houses and clothes that would soon be worn for the Pruc’ssion ‘.
The most devout and practitioners would have reached the Cathedral for the 10.00 Mass while all the others would have popped up at specific points, from every alley, to participate in the most important event in our small town.
With mastery the party committee that had won the Easter Monday bid, prepared the picture of the Madonna, supported by wooden planks and transported by the 4 men designated by the committee. Thus began the long procession which would last about 2 hours: around the Villa, down the Corso towards the cemetery, turn right and then climb along Via Marconi to stop in the clearing of the ‘Turco’.
The Easter Monday procession had a uniqueness that was entirely Atellan: the bidding. This was a real auction where, however, nothing was sold. Instead, it represented a way to ‘measure’ the devotion of the Atellans but it was also the place of challenges, one against the other, between political groups or between friends and jokers. On “sale” the pillow of the Madonna, the gold and silver cross but the most coveted was the painting of the Madonna.
The auction, an auction in honor of the Madonna
It had taken years for me to understand what “right hand forward” or “left hand behind” meant. The winner of the auction of the single relic had the ‘right’ to carry in procession what was awarded; the highest offer ever, generally attributed to a group of people, gave the right to appoint the August party committee. The money thus collected formed the basis from which to organize the party on August 3-4 and 5, with the queue on Easter Monday the following year.
Two hours of walking and prayer
At 11.00 the procession was still on via Marconi and, as it continued, new devotees joined the side of the roads. The dimensions grew visibly while the nuns and boys of the Committee struggled not a little to keep the procession in order: in the head the altar boy with the cross, followed by the women and girls arranged in double lateral rows, in the center the priest with a couple of altar boys. Immediately after the painting of the Madonna supported by 4 men, not necessarily members of the Committee. Every 50/100 meters the 4 bearers were replaced by other volunteers, strictly in pairs, of the same height, 2 by 2; the highest on the left and right hands, behind during the ascents and in the front during the descents.
The journey was always the same, for decades, who knows when, twice a year.
Once in front of the Tower, the Procession was at its maximum splendor: a short 180-degree turn and down towards Piazza Matteotti, through Via Giustino Fortunato, to then go up again along the Corso going straight towards the houses.
Arrived above, where Viale Annunziata joins the SS93, an obligatory stop with a stop for a short moment of prayer and then down, in a reverse path to the Arco where another obligatory stop was the moment of the fires, the white ones that make a lot of noise and a little smoke. The moment was an important one. The Committee was very careful to count the number and type of bang: it was used to affirm the quality of the party but also to verify how much the stoker was respecting the agreements.
The fires opened the party, were fired during the Procession and then the grand finale in the evening at midnight
The heat was always stifling; no one remembers in living memory a 5th August without the typical heat of the Atellan summers. The men, strictly with shirt, tie and jacket (only the most daring) as well as women, dressed in good clothes, were by now overwhelmed by the heat and the drops of sweat were a necessary decoration to testify the commitment of that morning .
After the fires the procession accelerated incredibly and veering to the left, along Via Zanardelli, headed towards the Duomo. In the meantime, the number of participants had significantly reduced: many women had abandoned the religious rite to go home where they would resume another rite, that of lunch for which it was necessary to bake pasta and lamb with potatoes in the oven. Once in sight of the Cathedral, the bells welcomed the procession thanks to the work of some altar boys who had the mandate to ring the bells as hard as they can.
This was the last rite of the procession. Latecomers, if they wanted to intercede with the Madonna, had only to go to the Cathedral, where the painting would remain on display for the whole day.
And what a party it is, without savings
August 5th is the Feast of the Madonna. Every Atellan who could (and it was most of them) was not working that day, the shops were closed. Everything stopped. Lunch, therefore, was the lunch of the party, nothing and no one was spared. In the late afternoon, in the Villa or in the Piazza, board games and foosball or trump tournaments were the masters, pulling until dusk, when the stage was set up for the singer in the square.
Oh yes, the singer could not miss: neo melodics, rockers or committed songwriters. What united them was their age (over sixty) as well as the cachet which, inevitably low, indicated that they were famous names, now decayed and no longer in vogue.
The day of the great crowd
But in spite of everything, the Corso and the Piazza were in fact impracticable in those hours. To walk that hundred meters it took a lot of patience and several minutes, given the crowd of visitors from all the neighboring municipalities.
A scarce hour of songs more or less ‘out of tune’, a lot of applause and a few whistles accompanied the turning off of the lights. The concert was over. All that remained was to go to via Aldo Moro from where the fires could be admired upside down. The duration, number and quality of the barrels would have decreed the final ‘judgment’ on the party committee.
This was the Feast of the Madonna.
What has become of August 5th
Over the past few years, the Feast of the Madonna has become something else entirely:
- the painting of the Madonna is a fake, even unsuccessful, wrong in the proportions (the crushing effect of the Virgin’s head is evident)
- bidding abolished because it was considered sacrilegious
- the procession, when and if it is done, is held at convenient times, so there is no risk of the dappled armpit and sweat that would wet the Sunday dress
- the Committee and its President are no longer an expression of the citizens
- the two days before August 5th deprived of any content
- no more party games
- shops and activities open as if it were any day
- Corso Papa Giovanni, Villa and Piazza open to the transit of cars
- open swimming pool to welcome distracted summer bathers
- nuns and boys of the parish involved in the summer camp