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   ... Saint Ilarione's Day (Part II)


  The competitions consisted of: “pignatte” (a sort of pot), sack races, the “cuccagna”tree (the tree of   abundance), donkey races and unfailingly, the “carrette” (handcarts). These were personally built by   each participant. They consisted of a well shaped slab of wood to which a well stuffed cushion for   seat was added as well as wooden wheels (made by a good carpenter). Ball bearings were added to   the wheels before they were attached  to the axles (the posterior axle was fixed, the anterior axle   rotated on a central pivot; the whole contraption was manoeuvred round corners by using reins).   Breaks were not usually applied: to slow down one used to use one’s feet, with a certain ability, and   at the finish line the cart was stopped by a load of sand.


  The various competitions

  During the days before the festivities, the traffic wardens allowed training competitions (the course   ran from the “piano Baglio” to “piazza Seggio”); but once the real competition was over it was no   longer possible to parade with the handcarts. They were put into a deposit until the next year or   used at other times, by pulling it by its reins, in order to transport sacks or heavy luggage.

  For technical reasons, this competition took place the day before the festivities; only the Caulonians   could compete because that was the only way to keep the streets clear enough for the handcarts to   race through.

  On the next day (i.e. Friday) the streets and squares would begin to fill up with various kinds of   pedlars coming from the furthest villages, not only Gioiosa and Siderno.

  The livestock fair also took place during these days (farmers, then, could not do without donkeys),   pigs were slaughtered, and their meat was consumed during the days surrounding the Festivities.

  The church was sumptuously decorated, the streets of the village were brightly and beautifully lit (as   still happens today), and two stages were set up (one in “Piazza Seggio” and the other in “Piazza   Mese”) so that the bands and orchestras could perform.

  In one memorable festivity during the thirties, a parade of allegorical wagons was organized.

  The central square was always packed out so that it was difficult even just to move on the festive   days of Saturday and Sunday (the October festivity is always organised for the third Sunday, even if   the day doesn’t happen to be the twenty-first).

  The entire population, decked out in new clothes, would walk around the village to buy some toys,   dried fruit, regional specialities or to test their luck at the three cards table or at dice.

  The many foreigners (from seaside resorts such as Roccella Ionica) would be intent on negotiating   the price of and acquiring provisions for the winter such as fruit, oil, pulses, wheat and flour.

  After the procession, there would be a fireworks display and within two or three hours the square   would be empty.


  What is left today

  Of all this, only the things that are in tune with the times remain; this (I think) does the Caulonians   honour if one stops to think about the strange and often barbaric customs still firmly in place during   the main festivities, year after year, in many villages of Calabria.

  Here in Caulonia there are no longer any gambling tables; there is no livestock fair (the farmers all   have tractors and delivery trucks); the mountain villagers no longer come down to sell walnuts and   chestnuts and the better living conditions have eliminated any form of barter.

  However, pork is still cooked in the traditional ways (“frittole”, and sausages) and sold. The square is   made merry by the children’s animators, the merry-go-rounds, the swings, other amusements and   sweets and toy stalls.

  The handcart and donkey competitions are no longer held, but the importance of the festivity has not   diminished. The quantity of work still rises for the traders, shopkeepers and artisans during the   festivities also due to the increased circulation of money in the village.

  Nothing has changed in the religious demonstrations; the only difference is that the procession is no   longer escorted by the “pistonari” (arquebusiers), who used to carry their old contraptions and shoot   loud shots (“pistuni”) in preordained places.

  The last shots used to be sent directly onto the walls of the church after the saint had been taken   inside.

  This last custom was abolished, twenty years ago, after the wounding of one of the arquebusiers.   Today, most people think it time to reinstate the custom with the arquebusiers’ arms without bullets   as precaution. This because many of the owners sold their arms to antique dealers after their   abolishment from the procession.

  On the Saturday morning, after mass, the statue and the relic begin the procession. Most of the   children don’t go to school but prepare to go to the convent. At about a kilometre from the last house   in the village, there is a “Calvario” (a small temple only used on the days of Saint Ilarione).
  The statue is brought there and, from there, much of the procession heads for the cemetery, about   three hundred metres further on, for a dutiful visit to their dead.

  From the “Calvario” the relic is carried to the convent on foot by the priest and is accompanied by   many faithful people of the procession, some of them bare foot as a vote). About mid morning a   mass is held in the convent’s chapel where a prestigious painting of Saint Ilarione and the bones of   Beato Pietro (a converted ruffian who wished to end his life in the hermitage) are kept.

  In the afternoon the Saint’s arm is taken to the church of San Nicola where the adoration and   another mass are held. In the evening there is a return to the convent where the Office for the Dead   is held.

  Among those who decide to stay for the wake, some help collect scrap wood which is placed under   one of the olive trees radiated in the wall of the convent. This is then set on fire. Miraculously, the   next day the olive tree is fresher and greener than before.

  Meanwhile, at the “Calvario”, many other people also prepare for the wake, singing litanies and   reciting rosaries in honour of the Saint.

  The next morning the relic arrives at San Nicola and is placed on the altar until the time comes to   put it away, usually, after the eleven o’clock mass, which is always as full of people as the Easter   mass or that of All Saints Day.

  The octave is celebrated on the following Sunday.

  The statue of the Saint is carried by a procession through the main streets of the village.

  During the Sixties it was proposed to carry the statue also to the fraction of Marina di Caulonia,   passing through Focà; this initiative was discarded because there was a risk of ruining the precious   sacred image.

  This year it was decided to bear the relic with the arm to Marina di Caulonia.

  Thus it has been a well measured festivity this year, with ample space for religious sentiment and   without excluding the civil demonstrations.

  The brass band of Città di Guardavalle (which has one of our citizens, Giulio Daniele qualified   trombonist at the Conservatorio di Reggio Calabria , as one of its soloists) walked round the streets   of Caulonia Marina on Friday the sixteenth of October, and then playing with great success on stage   at Caulonia Superiore. On the same stage, on the night of Sunday the eighteenth of October, the   Toni Ranieri band also played. During the festivity of 1965, the latter, as they well remember, won   the festival organised in Caulonia in honour of Saint Ilarione’s Day, also attended by Lello Fiore. On   the evenings of the seventeenth, eighteenth and twenty-fifth of October (in occasion of the octave)   the Catalano firm (of San Nicola di Caulonia) sponsored the spectacular fireworks display, of which   the one on Saturday the seventeenth was held at Marina during the procession of the relic.

  This procession in particular, was a really felt one, and it showed, if there was any need at all, that   the motive for great demonstrations lies undoubtedly in religion.

  Men and women from every social class participated with order and enthusiasm in the procession   bearing the Saint’s relic; I personally joined in, not without emotion, with the chorus led by Ilarione   Roccisano. Each procession was accompanied by the brass band of Città di Caulonia, while the   relic was carried in turn by each of the various priests: the archpriest Don vincenzo Maiolo, and the   parish priests Don Mimmo Lamberto and Don Pasquale Arnò. Every time the band paused to get   their breath back, the chorus sang at the top of their lungs the chant called “Evviva Ilarione”.


  The old lady of Sesto San Giovanni

  Such a heartfelt procession recalls to my memory another one in which I participated in 1978.

  I was in Sesto San Giovanni (in the province of Milan) on the day of the Corpus Domini. Here, the   parish of San Giuseppe had organised a procession which would take the “Santissimo” (most holy)   from the church to the civil hospital.

  At the crossroads with Via Fratelli Bandiera a young couple (the girl was very pretty) were sitting on   the sidewalk kissing, quite oblivious to the religious goings on.

  A little old lady left the line of participants and forcefully told the couple off saying: “Sta passando il   Santissimo Sacramento, alzatevi!” (“The most holy sacrament is passing you, get up!”).

  Reprimanded by the old lady, the couple rose to their feet immediately, walking respectfully and   silently for the rest of the procession.

  The moral values of Christianity are what most tie us together, and which we are absolutely unable   to give up. Let us defend those values with the same resoluteness shown by the old lady if we don’t   want to risk letting paganism, whose only virtues were force in war and the supremacy of riches,   arise again.



La festa di Sant'Ilarione by Orazio di Landro
Corriere di Caulonia - Novembre 1987
Translated by A. C. R. Mazza

Thanks to Luigi Briglia
for his splendid photography



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