Folk Relics in the Sangro Valley

Article by Lorenzo Pasquini, a student of archeology, writer of poems and short stories; also a woodcarver, he makes hand-made knives, is interested in pre-Roman history and Abruzzese traditions and worship.
«...and as survival I mean those remnants of "human feelings" that in spite of the horrible advance of the "pokemon" phenomenon or of the flattening of minds brought about by discos and connected worlds, still insist in appearing among the ruins of mediocrity.»
Please bear with me for this bombastic beginning, but it is exactly this indignation that can excite our desire to dig into the age-old substrates of popular tradition, and to listen to the low-key, ghostly voice of time, which in our obscure rural settlements, forgotten by the world, now sounds like despairing.

The field where my research is mainly applied is that of the "contrade" of the town of Lanciano; that small valley lying at the foot of the hills called Sant'Onofrio, Santa Margherita, della Defensa and "della strega", an area which was in the old times called "Selva Rotonda", due to its special geographical form and the thick woods that still today partly cover the territory. Also, I would like to point out that the history of these contrade has very little to share with the town of Lanciano, for it only belongs to the same administrative jurisdiction.

The contrade of Lanciano

The differences can be noticed in all fields: from gastronomy to human activities, from the types of folk traditional festivals to religious celebrations, from everyday customs to dialect accents, which for Selva Rotonda still maintain so much of the age-old, basic Frankish - Provencal and German descendancy of the populations that first settled in these lands, and that later, in the 5th and 4th century B.C. got in contact and mixed with the local original inhabitants. The evidence of such mixture are extremely scanty, but they come out clearly from the analysis of a great many aspects.

Just as an example, still today in folk religious rites a peculiar vision of nature stands out, based on a pantheistic assumption of the elements of air, fire, earth and water. In a pristine Christmas tradition there is the custom of lighting a fire with branches of the oaktree, which is sacred in a pagan and magical dimension of religion, and to invite the youngest member of the family to jump over it repeatedly, as a gesture of purification for the whole clan. The eldest member of the family, in his turn, contemplates the sky, while holding an oil lantern, during the Holy Night, with an aim to propitiate a good harvest for the following year.

Lo "sfoch"

One of the most interesting traditions is the "charm" of disease, performed by the elderly women through a very complicated series of symbolical actions. I can supply an interesting example to this regard. There exists a very peculiar skin disease called in dialect "sfoch". To cure this very annoying erythema, still today a charm is applied connected to the cathartic function of ditch water, and which summarizes its effectiveness in few, mysterious, symbolical lines in dialect:
The formula is not reported with total faithfulness. My grandmother, who is the source of the formula, is very jealous of her knowledge and did notwant me to report it in full.

When healing is taking place, the woman's voice becomes very low, to avoid anybody to hear the words. There are hundreds of such formulas, each aiming at healing some special "accident". They are accompanied by a number of special gestures, and their efficaciousness is somehow mysteriously guaranteed. Granddaughters inherit this special power through oral transmission and memorizing details. The example here reported is connected to water, but the elements and the details mentioned in the formulas are the most varied.


It is my conviction - though I welcome any comment - that here it is possible to clearly identify the permanence of a cosmology and spirituality typical of the Celtic phylosophy, based on the assumption of a total harmony and belonging of all things in nature, as creatures of a total divinity present in each one of them, a divinity always acting in everyday life, and which could be channeled, depending on man's inclination, either to good or evil.

And it is my special anguish that there should be no youth movements aiming at a global conservation of such traditional realities in my area. I would like to ask those of you who are reading my words, and who share my interests, to get in touch for job proposals, advice, or just encouragement. I am already working to this aim.

Also, to those who thought the beginning was exaggerated, I would like to ask not to consider me a boring sarcastic voice. My friends well know what I stand for, or what I would like to stand for, for the people of my age. And in the hope something will rise from the ashes ...