Evviva Sant’Antonio! You will hear this exclamation across the region on January 16-17 as Abruzzo celebrates the feast of Sant’Antonio Abate, the protector of domestic animals and patron saint of the poor and peasants. Many small mountain villages have their own traditions and rituals that have been carried on throughout centuries: prayers, liturgical celebrations, and blessings of animals, folklore songs and street plays depicting scenes from the saint’s life, bubbling pots with beans and pig skins, trays of traditional jam-filled biscuits (cillìtt di Sant’Antonie, or little birds of Saint Anthony), – there is so much going on during the feast of Sant’Antonio Abate in Abruzzo.
Sant’Antonio Abate, born in Egypt, around 250 BCE, is revered as the father of Christian monasticism. Abandoning wealth and worldly possessions at the age of twenty, he chose a life of solitude on the shores of the Red Sea. Over his 80 years of life, Sant’Antonio welcomed the needy and pilgrims, earning him the title of patron saint of the poor and peasants.
The feast, like many other religious celebrations in Abruzzo, is a mixture of Christian and pagan elements. Torcioni, farchie, focarazzi, or S. Antonio’s bonfires, have always been the central part of popular rituals to celebrate the occasion. The fire, a pagan feature, symbolises the transition from winter to impending spring. In many villages, the feast of Sant’Antonio is also the time when pigs are slaughtered with local families coming together to make prosciutto and sausages.
Where to see the Feast of Sant’Antonio Abate celebrations in Abruzzo
Fara Filiorum Petri
One of the biggest celebration of the Feast of Sant’Antonio Abate in Abruzzo takes place in Fara Filiorum Petri on January 16th. The whole town prepares months before the celebration enormous bundles of reeds called farchie. Each district, 12 in total, transport their reed structures to the square in front of the Church of Sant’Antonio Abate (this year, to mark the 25th anniversary of the festival, the farchie will be lit in in località Colle Selva). As dusk falls, at 5pm, they are lit as everyone on the piazza cheers on and sings. See our beautiful photo essay about the festival in the December 2020 issue available here. If you cannot attend, watch an excellent live broadcast on the organisers’ Facebook page.
In the village of Collelongo, the festivities begin on January 16th with the preparation of cicerocchi, boiled corn, a celebratory Mass and lighting of the torcioni, giant wooden torches, on two main squares. On the morning of the 17th, at 5am, bowls of cicerocchi are distributed among the locals and, at 6am, women, donned in traditional costumes, carrying copper conche vessels parade through the village to the main church. If you are not an early riser, you can arrive for 3pm to watch the blessing of domestic animals in front of the main church. See the full programme here.
On the evening of January 16, Villavallelonga sits down for a celebratory meal in honour of St. Anthony the Abbot, the patron saint of farmers and one of the most beloved saints in Abruzzo. This is not an ordinary meal, it is La Panarda, a long feast which extends through the night accompanied by prayers, traditional music, and songs following centuries-old rituals passed down through generations of villavallelonghesi (as the locals are called). Read more in the December-January issue of ABRUZZISSIMO available here. See the full programme on the town’s Facebook page.
The custom of distributing sagne pasta with ricotta on the feast day of S. Antonio Abate (or Sant’Antonio Barone as the saint is called locally) seems to date back to the 14th or 15th centuries, a time when the Abbey of S. Antonio Abate existed in Scanno. On the morning of 17 January, whatever the weather, in the small space in front of the small church of S. Antonio Barone, a fire is lit on which a huge cauldron tripod is placed in which sagne con la ricotta (small strips of pasta seasoned with salted ricotta and lard). At the end of the Mass, the tasty steaming food, blessed by the officiating priest, is dished out for everyone on the piazza.
For more information see Visit Scanno, but if you are planning a visit it would be better to call the town hall for details.
Want to know more about Abruzzo’s traditions? Subscribe to ABRUZZISSIMO, the only English-language magazine about Abruzzo, to receive 10 issues per year directly in your inbox.
The featured image is via Farchie Fara Filiorum Petri/Facebook.