One thing that accompanies a journey around Abruzzo is the sound of bells. A distant tinkle from sheep and goats, the bass musical notes that clang from those strung on cows and horses, the call to Mass, a funeral, wedding peel or the tolling of a passing, which in my village is an electric version played by the undertakers. Unlike the ting alerts from your smartphone, which entail grabbing and looking down, these pastoral & human announcements have you scan around, a quick thought on who we share the planet with, tradition and mortality.
“The Italian name for bell ‘campana’ comes from the Latin name for the bronze and terracotta basins that were made in Naples, ‘vasa campana’, hence its regional name ‘Campania’. Bells have a similar shape so took on the same name. The sound they produced was ‘tintinnabulum’ (think tinkle in English!)”. Historically it was believed that bells could ward off evil spirits, keep storms and lightning at bay as well as drive away infections.
Bells still hold a unique position in Abruzzo with festivals and pilgrimages associated with ‘the bells’.
Abruzzo’s Boisterous Bell Festivals
Abruzzo’s loud and colourful bell festivals take place in August in the province of Chieti.
The first Abruzzese bell festival is held in Vasto on the 16th August and is dedicated to the French San Rocco, the patron saint of tourists and protector against ‘The Plague’ and contagious diseases. He was famous for helping the sick during the Great Plague in 1367-1368 and carried a bell attached to his staff to alert townsfolk to his passage if accompanied by the sick. Each year you can join the town’s cheery bell-led celebrations to mark his feast day, with a large market that shows off Italian bell-making prowess as craftsmen descend on the town to show off their wares.
The other bell-centred festival is in Lanciano which has become the centrepiece to what is now regarded as the oldest white night celebration. The Sant’’Edigio Fair opens after lunch and is where you will see stall after stall brimming with hand-decorated bells as well as handmade toys. It’s a children’s paradise!
Sant’ Egidio was an 8th century Greek Benedictine Abbot who was a protector of the disabled, leapers and weavers. On his staff he would carry a bell to alert the public of his arrival with his followers.
Traditionally at sunset engaged couples would buy wicker baskets, into which the man would place delicious pieces of newly harvested fruit, his new fiancée would place a ceramic bell as a sign of eternal love and happiness. Traditions change and today the bells are gifted to the ladies as a sign of undying love or with the purchase of a ‘family’ bell again as a symbol of togetherness and happiness.
The Squilla – An Early Christmas
This Lanciano ‘La Squilla’ solstice-like practice happens on the 23rd December and is devoted to forgiveness, love, and peace. The people of Lanciano gather to see their parents and elderly friends to renew their relationships, share a hug, and exchange gifts early. Traditionally on this evening, a large piece of wood would be lit in the family fireplace that would burn through to Epiphany.
The association of the bell with these rites came in 1607 when Paolo Tasso, Archbishop of Lanciano, began a penitential barefoot 3km pilgrimage on 23 December to symbolise Mary & Joseph’s final passage to Bethlehem. The pilgrimage was accompanied by the tolling of “la squilla”, or the sound of church bells, on their return bearing torches the bells stopped and the townsfolk exchanged greetings. Today a small bell called “la Squilla” is placed on top of the bell tower of the Madonna del Ponte which is rung for an hour after sunset on the 23rd December to signify the pilgrimage is under way.
Buy Abruzzese personalised handcrafted Ceramic Christmas Bells by Ceramiche Fulvi that you can personalise on the Life in Abruzzo Marketplace