The Catholic tradition involves many feasts. In Italy, each day of the year has a designated saint.
The name of our Tuscan village, “San Romano” was after that very saint and his specific calendar day was August 9th. This was designated as a high feast for our village. There was another saint that actually had a higher ranking than San Romano, I have never known why, I will ask my father, and maybe he knows. That saint was “San Felice” meaning “the happy saint.”
San Felice’s day on the calendar was August 30th.
Processions were the biggest feasts in the village and only occurred every 5 years. The date was set usually two days after San Felice and the entire three days would become a continuous feast. For each procession, the village would designate two women in charge of collection strictly for the use of the procession expenses.
I remember one of the jobs was to clean the roadways of the procession route. The route would start at the main church, go directly to the village main piazza and up past the school, and then it would follow the village outer road back down to the church of San Rocco and back up the “strugiorella” road to the main church. During the trip, the procession would stop twice, one at a crucifix post along the outer road and at San Rocco’s church.
The volunteers for cleaning the roads were mostly young boys and girls especially teens. Since all of the roads in the village are made of cobblestone, I remember how meticulously we had to clean around each and every stone removing any form of weed or grass. Once finished, the roads looked immaculate and ready for the procession. This cleaning would go on for months since all the work was strictly done by hand. We had no form of mechanized device to perform this type of work, but simply use small hand tools to remove each and every weed or grass around the cobblestones. The cleaning extended for the entire roadway and also the shoulders. Decorations of some type would then be placed along the shoulders to add to the festivities. Some of the decorations included large colored paper chains strung along the walls on each side of the road. The chains would be placed in a repeating arc form for the best effect, and secured at each arc point.
The procession involved carrying the Virgin Mary’s statue housed in one of the main church altars. The statue was full human size and once removed from the altar it was placed and mounted on top of a special decorated platform that would be carried by handed picked men, usually four or eight men. In front of the procession would be the priest followed by an altar boy continually swinging the incense vessel flanked by two other altar boys holding tall candles. In front of all this would be young girls with full baskets of rose petals. Their job was to sprinkle the rose petals immediately in front of the procession and in front of the Virgin Mary’s statue.
Thinking about this today it reminds me of a Roman emperor’s triumphal return from a victorious battle.
Past the Virgin Mary statue would be the village classical band performing classical tunes as the procession moved along. The band included my father playing the French horn, my uncle Lino playing the saxophone, and my cousin Ezio playing the trumpet. At the end of this, the village people would follow quietly and in a great solemn demeanor.
These traditions have been part of the village for centuries and part of what makes special memories for me. I feel blessed to have experienced what people may have only seen on film or read about it.
Here is a typical cobblestone road in the village. The tunnel is the base of several condominium type structure above the roadway.