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A guest blog post by Valter Chiocchio

It leaves you speechless.

That’s how you are in Cocullo, on the first day of May.

And that’s why you come to Cocullo, to attend the snake festival of San Domenico Abate as just one dot amongst thousands of dots that join to form the myth of the Rite of the Serpari.

The rite tells the timeless legend of a village sitting in the mountains, surrounded by pristine nature, watching over the valley of Sagittarius and that keeps a centuries-old tradition alive.

The story is of the miracle of San Domenico Abate, the protector from snake bites and rabid & venomous animals, as well as from toothache. This story has been passed down, uninterrupted, to the present day, crossing both cultural and generational changes, physical distances and mental barriers, memories of grandparents and children’s eyes.

And so the earlier black and white photos of the serpents become coloured in the later versions of their successors, but they don’t lose their wonder, curiosity and devotion – blended into a religious event which is unique in the world, capable of moving the masses and opening their hearts.

The village of Cocullo @ Franco Risio for Pro Loco Cocullo

The village of Cocullo @ Franco Risio for Pro Loco Cocullo

Modern wind turbines, at work on the Pietrafitta mountain, watch over the caravan of cars, which shortly after turns into a curious crowd in the streets of the village. Tourists and scholars, journalists and worshippers, are united in the discovery of a charming village and in the rediscovery of its ancient customs and knowledge.

A journey in faith and nature, with the central two figures: that of San Domenico – the patron and protector – and that of the snake charmer. The snake charmer is a tireless hunter of snakes – which are then offered proudly to the saint – and is also an expert researcher and conservationist  of the protected species which are the protagonists of the rite. 

From early morning on every May 1st the characteristics of the festival begin to take shape: the arrival of groups of pilgrims, the procession of girls in traditional costume, the surprised looks that turn into confidence with a snake around your neck, the smiles of the children, the statue of the saint dressed in the ‘cervoni’ snakes that then makes its way into the sea of people, with its arms raised as if for the photos.

Snakes Festival in Cocullo © Franco Risio for Pro Loco Cocullo

Snakes Festival in Cocullo © Franco Risio for Pro Loco Cocullo

These images have been passed down and tell a story that travels all around the world. But they only become real when you become part of them – a large mosaic to be kept and preserved which is the subject of an application to UNESCO for intangible heritage.

These are images to take home and keep – stored in your smartphone and in a corner of your mind, along with a very specific event: the 1st of May next year, Cocullo, the feast of San Domenico Abate and the Rite of Serpari.

The tower of Cocullo © Eleonora Risio for Pro Loco Cocullo

The tower of Cocullo © Eleonora Risio for Pro Loco Cocullo

You can find out more information about the Rite of the Serpari here

Cocullo is a short half-hour drive from Sulmona however, on May 1st specifically, you may need to park some distance from the village along the small road to Anversa called Via Santa Maria in Campo. As an alternative, consider taking one of the special trains from Sulmona.  On any other day of the year Cocullo is still worth a visit and you will be able to park easily in the village itself.

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