August 28 and 29 were the Festa della Immacolata in Cervinara. This is the biggest festa of the season for the parish of San Nicola and it involved the whole Castello/Ioffredo frazione. First, there were three days of special masses in preparation for the procession. The Madonna was taken out of her niche and placed in front of the church. Sunday morning, the marching band arrived and went around the neighborhood playing marches, most by John Philip Sousa, to announce the arrival of the feast day. Masses were said as usual. Then, at 6 pm the bells of the church went crazy, ringing for 10 minutes announcing that the procession was about to begin.
This procession is the longest of the year and entails a cast of dozens. First were the little children, dressed up as angels and cherubs. Then came characters from the life of Mary; when she was a child, as a young woman, as a young mother, and then grieving after the loss of her Son. There were people dressed as Jesus, the Wise Men, shepherds, Jesus carrying the cross, interspersed with children carrying banners with bible verses of what was being depicted. Women in pale blue kerchiefs lined up to say the rosary. The cantors and the priest began with prayers and hymns for everyone to repeat.
The first stop on the procession was to Don Giorgio's house. About six weeks ago, Don Giorgio Carbone fell in front of his house. He has been bed-bound since then and he wasn't even able to go to the window to see the procession pass by. But we stopped by, the visiting priest took the portable microphone in to his room and he, with voice cracking with emotion, blessed the entire enterprise.
The procession went through the entire town and lasted almost four hours! By the time the parade returned back up the hill to the church, the excited faces of the children had become fatigued and the old ladies who insisted on carrying the statue were lame and limping. I made it through about half of the procession before surrendering and taking a ride home from cousin Giovanni!
As the statue of the Madonna was returned to the church, fireworks exploded in a display that could rival anything we have seen at home. There were 15 minutes of explosions and star bursts, a couple of more hymns sung, a final benediction and then everyone headed off to home.
The next day a stage was set up next to the church in preparation for that evening's concert. Scheduled to begin at 9 pm, it finally started around 10. There was a great group of Neapolitan singers, performing traditional songs and tarantellas, the latter accompanied by some very talented local dancers. Booths were set up where customers bought mixed nuts, candies, "per e mus" (pickled pig snout and feet), and toys for the kiddos. The Bar Rinascita brought out the grills and cooked up sausage sandwiches for many who decided to have supper outside with their friends. The pizzeria up the street ran out of pizza dough, there were so many enjoying the cool night air out on the restaurant's terrace.
All in all, the entire weekend provided a pleasant mix of religious and secular entertainments and there was something for just about everyone. Sadly, this event marks the end of the summer and the arrival of cooler and rainy weather. But that doesn't mean it's the end of the festas! There will be sagras for chestnuts, for wild boar, for porcini mushrooms and for all the other products that will come into season in the fall. While the mountains of the Samnites aren't cultural centers that attract lots of tourists, there are still many ways to enjoy oneself all year round.