Snakes take centre stage in Italian mountain saint procession

Published May 2, 2024
A WOMAN holds her snake during the procession of St Dominic in Cocullo, central Italy, on Wednesday.—AFP
A WOMAN holds her snake during the procession of St Dominic in Cocullo, central Italy, on Wednesday.—AFP

COCULLO: Snakes are the highlight of an ancient religious procession held every May 1 that attracts thousands of visitors to a mountainous village in central Italy.

Every year, villagers wrap a statue of Abbot Saint Dominic in snakes in the weeks leading up to the procession, before carrying it from the church and down Cocullo’s narrow streets.

Abbot Dominic (951-1031), also known as Dominic of Sora, is the patron saint of snake bites, rabid dogs, and toothaches and lived in the region around the year 1000.

Thousands of visitors flock from all over the peninsula and even abroad, to join the procession alongside a few hundred locals.

The procession marks a rare peaceful interaction between snakes and humans, who often hunt and kill the reptiles despite being a protected and declining species.

In the weeks leading up to the procession, so-called Serpari, men and women trained from generation to generation, search the mountains for snakes and keep them in their homes until the big day.

The snakes are released in the same place where they were found at the end of the patron saint’s day.

This time-honoured tradition is also a way of monitoring the population and health of snakes in the region.

According to a recent study by the University of Bari in southern Italy, studying snake behaviour could help scientists predict earthquakes.

Published in Dawn, May 2nd, 2024

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