Italian traditions: Saint Joseph's ride in Scicli, Ragusa
- WTI Magazine #125 Mar 16, 2020
The event has its roots in the Middle Ages: the tradition says that every year the St. Joseph feast in Scicli is honored with a ride through the streets of the city where the typical bonfires light up the night, recalling the escape to Egypt of Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus, riding on a donkey. According to some historians, the tradition of bonfires can be traced back to ancient Rome and one of its most important feasts, the celebration of the "Sol Invictus" (The undefeated sun), the triumph of Light (Spring) over the darkness of winter.
Among the most reliable and ancient sources that tell about this tradition we can find the historian Pitre, while Elio Vittorini devotes a memorable page of his "Conversations in Sicily" to the tradition of the Ride in Scicli.
The historical and religious revisiting of the escape to Egypt narrated by the Gospels is held every year around March 19, with the preparation of horses which are decked with flowers and wallflowers (“u balucu”, in the local dialect), and on them the riders go through the streets the city where, meanwhile, are lit particular bonfires (“i pagghiari”).
Near the bonfire gather knots of people who consume together frugal roast dinners. The best trappings are then awarded by the committee that organizes the festival. Also the clothing of knights are very characteristic: a pair of corduroy trousers, with cutting carters, and a matching vest, dark in color, a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up, a very wide handmade belt of various colors, from which dangles, on the right side, a big red handkerchief, a “burritta” (cap) with a “giummo” (bow) on the head and a clay or cane pipe. Four “ciaccari” (lighten up ampelodesmos beams), two in front and two behind the rider, cross-shaped, light the path of the horses.
The tradition of the ride has been perpetuated, unchanged, for centuries. It was suspended just during the two world war wars, because of the lack of men, there were no animals, and people did very small “pagghiari”, due to the state of poverty.
The feast shows the signs of a devotion that has its roots in the peasant culture, in the need to ask St. Joseph for the water, to grow the beans, to make the corn grow. In Scicli it never rains in March, and then it was not unusual to hear, while the ride was passing through: "Patriarca beddu, dateci l'acqua, fate piovere" (Beautiful Saint, give us water, make it rain). An image of St. Joseph in Scicli emblazoned in every stall. In those times, for the farmers, the beast was everything, the symbol of life. They needed the animal to plow the field, they needed it for transport. The effigy of St. Joseph protected the peasant family from every fatality: in exchange, the Saint received exclusive devotion, a devotion that every year still nowadays perpetuates the tradition.