Last summer I had the honor and pleasure of meeting my boyfriend’ s family. They are from Apricena, a small town located in the region of Puglia in Southern Italy. From Urbino, we drove to Pesaro, which is about an hour away and is the closest train station. We hopped onto a train and made a five-hour journey to the South. The train runs along the coastline, providing views of the sea, while on the opposite side, there are farms. As the train approaches its destination, passengers are greeted by soaring windmills used to generate power to nearby towns. There is no longer a stop at the station in Apricena, therefore you must get off in San Severo.
San Severo is a small, busy city, near Apricena. However, inspite of being a city, it is very much rooted to agriculture, evident by the tractors parallel parked in the streets. Stray dogs roam the streets, and lazily lay in the dirt of the olive groves. By car, it takes yet another half hour or so to arrive in Apricena. The town is known for its extraction of marble, being the second largest exporter in Italy, after Carrara in Tuscany. It is also known for its agriculture, and the entire town is surrounded by farms.
At the time, I was visiting it was the end of May. Each year during this time, the town celebrates the Festa della Madonna. The Madonna is the town’s patron saint. She makes her trek from one church to another, which is located on the other side of town.
Last year, the town celebrated the feast’s 100th anniversary. What surprised me was when I heard my boyfriend say, “100 years is a long time!” I could not believe my ears! There are many traditions and buildings in Italy that are well over 100 years old. The Roman ruins are over 2,000 years old. So to hear an Italian say that 100 years was a long time seemed a little funny.
The celebration begins each day for a week fairly early in the morning with Mass. Then the townspeople parade the statues of the Madonna and other saints around the streets of town. Before She journeys down a road, She stops and is met by fireworks. The procession then continues. This celebration is actually known to be the third most dangerous in the world. The fireworks line the street on a string, which has been hoisted onto poles. The end of the string is lit, and as the fireworks go off, the town’s boys run in front of them. At night, the same is done, except with larger, more explosive fireworks, including those dynamite-like ones. The Madonna’s long walk comes to an end at the second church, at which a prayer is held outside to thank Her.
The statue of the Madonna was recently restored prior to the 100th anniversary. She makes Her way to other towns, but they did not keep such good care of her. The way the other towns had fixed Her was not liked, so the Apricenesi restored Her to Her former beauty. Supposedly the other town that fixed Her had made Her ugly. The parade only comes to a halt during lunch and dinnertime. The meals during the festivals were about four to five dishes for lunch, and a light dinner. (Footage of the celebration soon to follow!)