Italian traditions: Feast of Barabbata
- WTI Magazine #151 May 21, 2022
The month of May is dedicated to Mary. Especially in Etruria, in the Lazio region, archaic festivals of pagan origin follow one another. A particularly suggestive feast, which at times fills the eyes with tears for its intensity, is certainly the Barabbata on May 14th. It is celebrated at the church of Santa Maria del Monte in Marta, a village along the Lake of Bolsena.
This is a parade of floats dedicated to Mary enriched by fountains that form water games pulled by oxen of Maremma, donkeys, horses. We can find real masterpieces of flowers and fruit that have the image of the Virgin and of the cornucopia.
They are very creative and different from each other, pulled by the animals that kneel down once they arrive in front of the door of the church, while the men shout and take off their hats. First the carts of the rubes parade, then the shepherds, the reapers, the mowers, the fishermen, all strictly dressed in the work clothes of their category with their tools.
The interesting thing is that only the men who prostrate themselves before the Madonna can participate, first during the parade of floats, and then during the “passata”, the second phase of the feast. We can see all the men of the house parading: in each float there is the old man, the son, the grandson. During the "passate", the three turns that are made on foot in and out of the church, in a sort of procession of the entire categories of workers, the faithful are sprinkled with flowers, rose petals, broom, fragrant herbs and are offered to Our Lady baskets of fruit, wheat, cheese, fish. The altar of Mary becomes rich with gifts: even if this is a pagan feast, not a Christian one, it truly celebrates her, the Virgin Mary, the Mother of the universe, fertility and abundance to which men cry, beg in a sincere love, deep and grateful: "Hurray Mary! Praised be the Most Holy Sacrament! Long live Our Blessed Lady of the Mount!"
During the parade there are touching scenes of old people screaming, and the children, even the youngest, emulating them excited to bring the gift to the deepest mystery of the heavenly Mother. Spectators watch praying, surrounded by the seeds, flowers, first fruits, thrown by the participants. They all hold in their hands an oval-shaped cake of the snake biting its tail, symbol of the universe and of nature that eats itself in an eternal return of life and death.
The Barabbata is an ancient ritual, which encompasses the ancient Etruscan sacred ceremonies that once took place on the shores of Lake Bolsena, in honor of the Italic deities: first Janus Bifrontes, then the Etruscan founding deities with the name Romanized as Norzia-Voltumna, replaced in early Christianity in these places with various Marian figures, but especially with St. Christina of Bolsena.