We debated whether to write about this festival, the annual Processione Dei Serpari in the small mountain town of Cocullo in Abruzzo, because it is so easy in our day and age to cast the 300-years-plus tradition in sarcastic tones as some travel bloggers and writers have done. But we decided to honor the festival for what it is, an authentic custom that is undertaken with respect and dignity, as this short YouTube video so clearly demonstrates. The Processione dei Serpari, or Festival of the Snakes, is held the first Thursday of May each year to honor Cocullo’s patron saint. Saint Domenico was thought to protect Cocullo’s inhabitants from snakebites and toothaches.
The festival unfolds thus: After an early morning Mass, villagers ring a small bell to protect themselves from toothache for the following year. There is a blessing of local soil, which will later be spread in local fields. Then, the wooden statue of Saint Domenico is draped with snakes and paraded through narrow streets of the village. There is another Mass, and another procession, and the day is capped off with fireworks.
If you happen to attend one year, get there early, know that there is no lodging in the village. In nearby Sulmona, there’s a marketplace in Piazza Garibaldi every Wednesday. And also in Sulmona, you can visit Ovid’s birthplace.