Italian traditions: The racing of the oxen in Asigliano Vercellese
- WTI Magazine #91 May 14, 2017
The popular legend says that a local plague in 1436 brought death and desolation among men and animals in town. The desperate people asked grace to Saint Vittore, with the promise of organizing a run of the slower animals, the oxen, as a sign of joy and gratitude. The Holy man heard these prayers and the plague ceased. The earliest historical documents referring to the "run" date back to 1658, written by a C.A. Bellini, who notes both the chariot race and the bread distribution.
Other documents, found in the Asigliano parish church in a report made by the parish priest don Francesco Bernardino Lanino in 1770, describe the Saint Vittore festivities: "After mass, they run as much as they can four chariots with big loads of bread. At the end of the race, the bread is blessed in Saint Vittore's oratory and distribute it."
The traditional "run" is just part of the Saint Vittore festivities. The folklore of this day does not diminish the sense of prayer and vocation to the patron saint, elected Custodian of the Asiglian community since 1436. The same elements that at first glance could be considered profane, acquire the sense of sacred and become "signs."
THE OXEN, an integral part of the feast.
THE TRIUMPHANT CHARIOT or BREAD CHARIOT continues the "Great Mass" celebrated in the church. Blessed bread is preserved in all houses and returns to the "Eucharistic sign." To protect animals from foot-and-mouth disease, in 2001 the chariot was not pulled by oxen but by a tractor.
The CHURCH CANDLE that is welcomed by a family representing the whole people is a sign of light. Originally this big church candle weighed 50 kilograms, today a few pounds less.
Finally, the colored RIBBONS and their distribution are symbols.
THE CHARM OF THE CHARIOTS. Tradition wants that at noon of the Sabbath day before the patron saint, with the festive sound of the bells, starts the enchantment of the chariots that will give life on Sunday to the race of the oxen for the dissolution of the vote. The rite is celebrated in the Town Hall in the presence of the Priors, of the Municipal Authorities headed by the Mayor and all the Asiglian people who for the occasion fill the Hall of the City Council.