Located west of Montorio al Vomano, high in the Gran Sasso Mountains off from the SS80 sits the small medieval town of Poggio Umbricchio which was once part of the world’s smallest republic Senarica that was aligned to Venice and is now famous for its November white truffle festival.
The village holds a vigil/watch dedicated to their patron saint, the Loreto Madonna on the 9th of December whose feast day is the 10th of December. The tale of the Santa Casa a Loreto is a remarkable one, bizarre even within the mythos of the Catholic faith, and claims that Mary’s small house in Nazareth (the Loreto House), where she received the Annunciation and where she lived during the childhood of Jesus, was after the Crusades transported from Nazareth by angels. It was originally taken to Croatia and then transported again on the 10th of December 1294 via angelic powers to Recanati, before a short move to its current location in the basilica Santuario della Santa Casa. To honour this celestial relocation watch fires are lit through the night and a Mass held at 3am in North Abruzzo, Le Marche and Tersatto in Dalmatia.
During the week in the winter Poggio is home to approximately fifteen villagers living there full-time, all of whom were in attendance when we visited for the vigil on a cold December night. Prayers & blessings were said at the crackling bonfire at 10.00, all of which combined to illuminate the path of the angels. A lengthy liturgy, probably Ave Maria, commenced and even for an agnostic such as myself looking into the bonfire listening to the chants there was a mystical quality when combined, creating a warm glow.
After the liturgy, local archivist Ercole made bruschetta. The 3 wise ladies had prepared Teramana Ventricina which could have kept the chill out on walk to Siberia, spicy as well as tasty.
If we weren’t blessed with visions of heavenly glory that night, we were at least allowed to see something else mysterious and rare, white truffle! It’s very very scarce in Abruzzo, but we were honoured to have our first try of this rare truffle during the event, supplied surreptitiously from a tinfoil package by one Enzo, and grated onto hot bruschetta toasted on the fire, before drizzled with the season’s new oil. Toast doesn’t come any better than this!
We had a quick tour of the Loreto Church that is la Chiesa della Madonna di Loreto, fabulously baroque therefore plenty of Madonna & Angels of the boobies visible in what seems almost a Moulin Rouge style, but it is charming, an adjective that doesn’t sit too comfortably with Italian baroque. The wooden ceiling reminded me of the village church in Bascianella S Pietro, and if you visit make sure to ask for a tour otherwise you won’t get to see the apocryphal paintings that are guarded behind the more usual Christian fare. They’ve almost finished a presepe at the back of the church that will soon be on permanent display, replicating the town in miniature, and we can’t wait to go back in the light to take some photos of the town itself.
Harry Clifton wrote an account of a year in Abruzzo ‘On the Spine of Italy‘. I have to admit Poggio and the surrounding area weren’t painted in a wholly flattering light in this book; the writer’s depiction of the locals felt unfamiliar, almost unrecognisable compared to our encounters with similar folk over the past years in Abruzzo, but it made for an interesting backdrop to our visit.