The small Chieti town of San Giovanni Teatino’s re-enactment of the rites associated with their patron saint, John the Baptist, foraging for wild herbs and flowers to make the elixir, L’Acqua di San Giovanni illustrates perfectly one of the more colourful ways to learn about Abruzzo and a particular community.
History and culture aren’t just looking at a pile of rugged grey stones or an impressively carved column but participating in one of the many re-enactments that are put on by local cultural associations and ‘Pro Loco’, the latter who are a group of volunteers who have come together to promote their local area.
Thankfully there are still members of the community who revel in dressing up, bringing the past fast forward to us all today. It ensures that local history, traditions and rites aren’t forgotten as much by locals as visitors from far away. Many will share with wonder this colourful insight of a small Abruzzese town with friends and family when they are back home, so it’s always a job well done! Thank goodness Abruzzo has these people to promote the region, I am not sure where it would be without them!
One simple way to find out what is on in a town you are visiting is by searching for the town name with pro loco, for example, ‘San Giovanni Teatino pro loco’ or looking up who is the patron saint of the town and adding Festa after their name to reveal what to expect when you visit if you planning ahead. Most of the Pro Locos have Facebook pages. Equally, try adding in Italian the main religious festivals and the name of the town or have a look here as a reference point.
Recipe to Make l’Acqua di San Giovanni
Magical l’Acqua di San Giovanni in Abruzzo is a famous purifying elixir that you use to wash your friends’ faces and hands with as a symbol of love and revitalised friendship.
Traditionally you need to be out on the evening of the 23rd of June to pick an assortment of wildflowers and herbs, in an ideal world 23 altogether! Add them to water in a bowl and leave it out on the grass overnight to absorb the morning dew, the symbol of the moon. If it sounds like something that should be done on the night of the summer solstice you’d be right. The Saint John the Baptist celebration became the Christian alternative to the pagan summer Christmas festivities of the solstice which celebrated the grain harvests. It had numerous water and fire rites associated with it that were absorbed by Christianity when they created their ‘own’ day for this part of the year.
As a rule of thumb for the ingredients, Timo e Lenticche suggests 4 lavender flowers, 4 St John Wort flowers, 10 edible mixed flowers, and 5 aromatic herbs.
Examples of the flowers and herbs to look out for:
St john’s wort, mallow, poppies, daisies, rosehip, dandelions, lavender, chicory, orange lilies, passionflower, hibiscus, mint, basil, thyme, rosemary, sage, lemon balm but ones local to you will do!
Sieve your water or remove the flora and fauna and pour into a small pump spray bottle. Use it frequently to ward off all our current day worries of June being dangerously too hot due to our man-made climate change!
Thanks to Eugenio Panichi for use of his wonderful photos to illustrate this post! The Pro Loco of San Giovanni Teatino and cultural associations here and everywhere for organising such wonderful feste and sagre!