RITORNO A SETTEFRATI
English version Italian version
FESTIVAL OF THE QUEEN OF THE MOUNTAINS
This year, after many years, the old tradition that had been perpetuated for centuries and had been part of the traditional holidays and devotionals of the village has been restored.
The tradition had been to take the image of the Madonna from the main church in Settefrati along the narrow and steep paths of the mountain and carried on the shoulders of several men to the church in the valley of Canneto.
The journey would be long and winding.
The first time that the statue of Our Queen of the Mountains was brought back from Settefrati to Canneto, I was not here. When my friends who had seen it came back, to the USA they told me how moving it had been to go back to that ancient tradition. But there is a difference between hearing somebody telling this and actually participating in it. This year I would have to participate in it. The procession starts, as always, with the Image of the main church in Settefrati being carried on the shoulders of several men followed by the faithful in a procession to the church of the Madonna delle Grazie, where it is prepared for the long journey. As soon as the Image appears all dressed in silk dress richly embroidered in gold. The gold crown
Is studded with precious stones. This is the holiday attire for this very special Day.
The bells ring out like a melody that echoes across the hills and valley. The fire works crackle from the hill top facing the church opening up and glistening in many colors.
I notice that the faithful in the procession are not dressed up for a holiday, but that they are dressed in a casual way and some of them have a cane to help themselves along the way and to face the long and hard journey in the harsh and tortuous mountain paths that have remained in their natural state for time immemorial, covered by bushes and rocks that have fallen from the mountain. This morning the sky is clear and the hot sun of August can be felt with all its power. The procession starts trailing the statue, while the band plays festive hymns. Many cars are lined up along the road: they are ready to take the faithful who are not able to walk behind the procession. They will accompany the statue to the church, wait for the procession to start going towards the track that leads to Canneto and then leave with the car to welcome the Madonna and the procession on the square right outside the Sanctuary at Canneto. The young priest, who is of a mind to follow traditions, got a donkey that he is now riding exactly as the Abbot and the Prelate had always done, and is moving in front of the statue singing hymns or saying the holy rosary. The guy with the loudspeaker on his shoulder was following the priest. Sadly, I could not participate in the arduous walk and I was waiting on the side of the street for the procession trail off in the distance out of view.
I wanted to climb over the bushes and walk along those mountain tracks following the Virgin as my soul desired, as I had done many times when I was young without any problem. But I was quick and agile at the time and my “spring” had just started. Now even my “summer” and “fall” have passed and the winter now near for me. I lower my eyes and I cannot hold back my tears. I just hope nobody sees me, behind my dark sunglasses. As I walking along with the crowd I hear the screech of tires as a car stops next to me. A friendly voice calls to me and says: “Would you like to come with us?” They are my friends and neighbors, the ones that live right next to my house in Settefrati. I get in the car and we go towards La Rocca the highest peak of the procession and the place where they rest before the descent towards the Valley of Canneto.On the Rock, there are already people waiting. A little further on, under a tent, they are selling sandwiches and beverages. Perhaps my friends (my comari) are waiting for me with homemade delicacies. Perhaps there is a white tablecloth on the grass around which we could sit to rest, eating a bite of fresh bread with olive oil, vinegar and some salt. Now it is called bruschetta and people think it is something that has just been invented. The good times are gone; only the memories of that time that has not completely erased remain. We are all waiting on the edge of a cliff; through the thick vegetation and the curves of the pathways we can see some bits of the procession. I admire the faith of the people following the procession and the enthusiasm that accompanies them while they climb the steep mountain. Now the chant can be heard closer; they are about to arrive. Another turn around the bend and I see the statue on the shoulders of the faithful, the priest on the donkey and the rest of the people following. We, the people who were waiting start applauding:
a deep sentiment can be seen on the faces of the people standing by. Men and women tend to reach out their hands towards the beloved Image that for centuries has been a symbol of the local sense of religion and of the folkloristic traditions of the village that distinguish it from the other villages in the valley. The procession stops and we all see that there is also a woman carrying the statue on her shoulder. They take a little break and then gather themselves again to start the easier part of the journey, under the shade of the ancient beech trees, descending the mountain. We went by car others by bus to wait at the churchyard. The entire field around us is full of people waiting in front of the ancient Sanctuary of Madonna di Canneto’. This valley called Prato di Mezzo is surrounded by majestic
green mountains. The view is breath taking.
Many faithful are holding Standards of the different dioceses that came to participate in the procession to honor the Virgin Mary.
It is almost noon and the sun is burning hot. At the fountains, cool, fresh water gushes out coming directly from the mountain spring. There were long lines of people at them drinking and filling bottles to take back home.
At the preordained time, the Bishop, the priest, the faithful and the altar boys leave to go and meet the Madonna that is now descending the last slope before arriving.
Even the band goes with them.
The Queen of the Mountains is welcomed by a sea of faithful with rousing applause and hymns and melodies, and screams of “Evviva Maria!” (Long live Mary!). I still have those same feelings that I have always had since I was a little girl. My soul rejoices, I go back and forth between tears and smiles, love and sadness. I am not alone. I see a lot of people that share the same feelings as I do. The Statue, preceded by the Bishop and the priest, by the authorities and the faithful, enters the church and the people start crowding in.
The solemn High Mass follows, inside the ancient church it is much cooler .At the end,
after the benediction we go back to the village, while others remain to have lunch at the restaurant. Now, alone in my house, I look around: there are no pots on the stove, no one in the kitchen, no one is preparing the table for the festive pranzo. The house is empty and the silence is deafening. Alone. A long time ago, in a time like this, our house was full of our relatives. It was the meeting place where everybody came to celebrate the holidays. were lots of people coming in and out and the house resonated with happy sounds and laughter, My father and his brothers were always joking, would keep us laughing and merry. My father would get the “special wine” that he was saving for a special occasion. And, of course, there were always the kids that I had to take care of since I was the oldest. I turn around; I want to look for them, to hug them, to smile at them. Iole, Maria, Livia, Marina, Ugo... But they are not there. Not a sound, nothing.
Only outside I hear the band playing, the last song before going home for lunch.
Delia Socci Skidmore