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Have you ever caught a snake? In Cocullo, you can!



I remember a morning in May when the sun was shining at the top of a blue sky and the color of the streams swishing between the green and flourishing trees of Abruzzo.
We left by car to reach Cocullo, and the small medieval town in province of L'Aquila city, and to watch one of the most ancient rites of our western culture, that is repeated every year, every May 1st (before 2012, every first Thursday in May), at midday, since a long time ago.
At the entrance of the town, the street was full of pilgrims, tourists and scholars,waiting to relive a moment of lost past, which becomes present again in Cocullo, every year, on the same day for the Feast of Snake catchers.

After crossing the Canale Fountain, the giant and ancient trough for beasts, and walking through the narrow streets that twist between the houses as a beautiful stone labyrinth smelling of warm bread cooked in a old wood oven, we arrived at the small square in front of the Saint Maria delle Grazia's Church (XIII century). There, a strange show astonished us. There were hundreds of people who held snakes in their hands or around their necks. It was so crazy! How could they hold the snakes in their hands? The snake which our culture considers the symbol of evil; however the answer was in this question.

While we were watching this show, a little old man got close to me and put a snake between my face and the show. Just a moment of enchantment, just a doubt, a flash, and I jumped back. He invited me to take it, I jumped back again. But now, a new strange feeling emerged, as a mix of fear and appeal, an ancient sense that I had unforgotten. I got close to him and took the snake. Oh, strange feeling! I felt the slimy snake scales. I had never held a snake in my hands before; indeed, I had never touched a snake! Now, I felt an attraction for that slimy being; this charming creature that the human prejudice has considered the symbol of evil, unjustly.

I kept the snake and went to the middle of the square. At that time, a statue was moved out of the church to the square. It was the statue of Saint Domenico from Sora, who protects from snakebites, and is the link between Man and Nature, the solution of ancient and obscure fears.
It was put near me. The people got close to it and put their snakes on the Saint; so I followed their example and put my snake on the saints head. That slimy and slithering heap slowly got closer to the head of the statue and the clamor and applause, joy and songs, prayers and entreaties arose from the square: the omen for the next year was good.

The Saint was lifted up and the crowd split and created a path as the waters of the Red Sea did in front of Moses. Slowly and gently the Saint crossed the square and got lost in the narrow stone street, accompanied by ancient songs.
We kept silence, there, and still. We thought. We had realized.








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