May festivals: Italy’s Festival of the Snakes

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By Karen Hartwriter

Article originally published on 18th April 2013

Learn about the Festival of the Snakes in Italy and make a scrap-paper snake.

Did you know there was a saint who protected us from snake bites? It’s St Dominic, and, every first Thursday in May, in the tiny Italian hamlet of Cocullo, there’s a special festival held in his honour. The festivities involve placing live snakes, banknotes and jewels on a statue of St Dominic before carrying it through the village while the snakes coil around both the statue and its bearers.

Eventually, the snakes are released back into the wild, with the ceremony supposedly leaving the villagers blessed with immunity from snake bites for the coming year. Actually, the statue bearers are not in any real danger as only non-venomous snakes are used in the ceremony, and even these have their fangs removed – just in case.

The big day starts at 8am when the village is woken with a firework display, which is followed by mass. The church also holds a smaller service for St Dominic, but this time in honour of his other role, that of protector against toothache. Churchgoers ring the bell by pulling the chord with their teeth or kiss the ‘holy-molar’, which supposedly ensures them nice, healthy teeth for the coming year.

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