Italian traditions: Grape festivals and Autumn Madonnas

Sep 15, 2018 155

The celebration, initially proposed as "Grape Day", then as "National Grape Festival" by Mussolini himself, introduced in 1930, is fixed on September 28 of each year. In Riccia, in the province of Campobasso, Molise, the festival has been active since 1932. In 1938 the chosen day coincided with the celebration of the local religious feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. At the end of the sixties the parish priest of the Church of the Rosary, Francesco Viscione, created a Committee that proposed, for the celebration of the feast of the Patroness of Riccia, the commemoration of the success of 1938. The feast, resumed as a celebration of the harvest, coincides definitively, on the second Sunday of September, with the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.

The offer of the products of the land, common in other religious festivals, is articulated in the preparation of allegorical floats, as they were reintroduced in the festivals of the thirties. On the wagons are placed the exaggerated reconstructions of the equipment of vinification, as in other reactivations of grape festivals. The reconstructions are covered with grapes fixed according to color and shade. The same procedure was used for the reconstruction of domestic and work environments. On some wagons rows of vines are arranged with hanging bunches and players disguised as peasants. Girls in local costumes distribute grapes, wine and local gastronomic specialities. On other wagons are staged moments of agricultural work, harvest, processing of products of the earth. On each wagon is inserted the image of Our Lady of the Rosary.

The procession is enriched by people who perform music and folk dances, flag flyers and majorettes, according to the new models of folk consumption and the promotion of food products. The inhabitants of Riccia, as observed in other re-enactments and neo-traditional festivals, propose themselves as they imagine to have been in a past already perceived far away. Things and people make up like crib representations, with living characters and animated objects, which move and interact with each other and with the spectators.

The mythologizing of the rural world, in its represented form, becomes a self-quotation by which an entire community proposes the construction and reinvention of its own image, as it would like it to be perceived externally. In tourist guides, newspapers, websites, the grape and grape harvest festival of Riccia, a consolidated spectacular expression of the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, are presented as an event of Christian tradition, but also of much older origin. According to what was suggested in a publication published in 1993, the feast of Riccia was linked to the ancient rituals of cereal and wine production, the main activities of the Molise town. This assertion is based on the consideration that "The symbolism of the two foods, both present in the Eucharist, goes back to the pre-Christian and even neo-stantial civilizations. Thus it will not seem excessive to refer to the bacchic cults that, from Greece, spread to Rome".

This consideration nourishes the all modern need to discover, often inventing them from scratch, that the roots of the community "sink in the mists of time". The reference to archaic pre-Christian rituals is further used to connect the current grape festival, through "an underground historical thread", to the orgiastic feasts in honor of Bacchus and to the relative "spontaneous country dances" of the harvest and to the presence of allegorical floats adorned with branches and bunches of grapes. Moreover, it is said that "The true "Carnival" of Riccia, in the original sense that the word "Carnival" assumes, can be identified in this festival, because participating means "get out" of the schemes, because, finally, the festival of grapes of Riccia involves the freedom of gestures and words, eternal in the ancient rite of the "Fescennini". All possible links with ancient rituals are recalled to affirm the archaic nature of the current festival, which would be further legitimized by the connection to the Carnival, according to interpretations that, ignoring any historical and contextual analysis, is considered the direct survival of naturalistic cults. This imaginative line of interpretation is immediately accepted and proposed in regional tourist guides and the local press.

The Fascist introduction to the grape festival, although vaguely remembered, is presented as an action that accepts and codifies a tradition considered much older than the Fascist imposition. From this point of view, the parade of allegorical floats is close to the Triumphs of ancient Rome. In these interpretative proposals, highlighted on the modern feast of Riccia, is justified the reason, now completely ignored, why the Church, fearing pagan revival, did not want to officially adhere to the fascist initiative. The festival, which the fascist intervention would only have highlighted, continues to be presented as the reactivation of ancient rites, preserved thanks to the state of "virginity" and "uniqueness" of Molise folk tradition.

Another interesting fusion of the grape festival with a religious festival is that of Solopaca, a centre of well-known wine-growing production in the province of Benevento. There is almost no memory of the festival held during Fascism, except for a few rare documents, such as a photograph of the 1937 edition. A photograph of 1952, indicated as one of the oldest, shows an agricultural cart decorated with plant elements, on which is placed a picture of the Madonna with the dead Christ. The cart, to which two oxen are attached, is stationary under the arches of the illuminations of the patron saint's feast. Another photograph from 1955 shows a cart with a cross made of bunches of grapes. The caption indicates him as "a chariot in honor of Our Lady of Sorrows". Recent oral evidence shows that the inhabitants of a district of Solopaca prepared chariots with grapes and firstlings of the season even before Fascism. The chariots paraded on the second Sunday in the procession of Our Lady of Sorrows to which they were dedicated.

Decayed after the fifties, the festival was reactivated in 1977 by intellectuals, professionals and local authorities who form a "Committee of Honor of Our Lady of Sorrows", similar to what was introduced by the parish priest Viscione in Riccia. The intention is to make the festival more topical and restore the parade of wagons. In the new realization of the festival, the grapes are used in beans glued together to form artistic mosaics. A new founding myth is also proposed, according to which the origin of the feast and the allegorical floats date back to the 18th century and to the activity of the "Brotherhood of the Seven Sorrows". According to these statements, the festival began with "the parade of peasants bearing baskets of grapes and seasonal fruit, followed by artistic compositions of bunches of grapes depicting the image of Our Lady of Sorrows" or other allegorical scenes. What was collected and exhibited during the show was sold at auction to finance the festival.

Of all this there is only a few oral testimonies. More reliable is the hypothesis of the connection of the festival with the auction of the grapes offered to Our Lady curated by the Brotherhood. In the commentary text of a documentary, it is said that the grapes and the products of the earth were also present in the feasts of San Rocco and of the Addolorata. The two festivals ended with the auctioning of the wagon contents in a past not otherwise defined.

The first two weeks of September, in the current editions, include religious ceremonies, sports competitions, performances of dialect poets and folklore groups, performances of scenes of daily life, serenades, traditional dances, fashion shows, "Taste Workshops", conferences.

The most awaited event is the parade of allegorical floats, made in the workshops of the Master Carraioli. On the second Sunday of September, the procession is preceded by the local authorities, the municipalities of Valle Telesina (interested in the production of Solopaca DOC) and the Province of Benevento, with their banners. Then follow the panels made with mosaics of grapes from the social and private cellars of the area. This is followed by a long historical procession, introduced in 1998, which commemorates the family of the Dukes of Ceva-Grimaldi, Lords of Solopaca from 1574 to 1764. The long procession is composed of figures in period costumes (from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century) and in traditional clothes bearing examples of local products, flag-wavers, drummers. This is followed by the statue of Our Lady of Sorrows, entirely covered with black grapes. The floats have the insignia of the Carraioli Masters and wineries. The chariots play fantasy, satirical, celebratory themes, scale reconstructions of Italian and exotic monuments, dragons, wolves and other animals made with grapes, with the addition of toys, papier-mâché puppets, dummies of clothing stores, animated puppets, flesh and blood people. The procession is closed by a cart with a traditional orchestra, to which are added upside-down vats, barrels and barrels of various sizes used as percussion. As in Riccia, the result is a festive, euphoric and carnival dimension of great charm and tourist attraction, in which the presentation of local food and wine production is increasingly central.

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