Cocullo, province of Aquila is a sleepy medieval town around a 50 Minute drive from Abruzzo Villas with a population of a few hundred people but every first Thursday in May, Cocullo comes alive with thousands of tourists to attend one of Italy’s strangest festivals and procession in honor of Cocullo’s patron Saint Domenico di Sora.
Cocullo Snake Festival
A statue of Saint Domenico di Sora is draped with live snakes and transported through a procession and later the snakes released back in the wild. The belief is that the patron saint made snakes from farmers fields disappear and in a symbolic gesture of respect, every year since 1392 the locals have been parading his statue ever since.The procession is joined by priests and girls in local costumes bearing “ciambelli” which are traditional sweetmeats specially prepared for the festival. This unusual procession is clearly of pagan origin and recalls the very ancient cult of reptiles. and goes back to a ritual in hour of the Goddess Angizia, a divinity of the Marsi, celebrated in the spring for its thaumaturgical power of curing the bites of poisonous snakes.
The XIII c. church of the Madonna delle Grazie has an elegant XIV c. facade with a pointed portal and two small pilasters surmounted by XVI c. niches and a small rosette and some frescoes inside. The santuario di San Domenico contains three silver processional crosses dating from the XV c.
The patron saint is also said to not only have the power to guard against snake bites but also cure tooth aches and in the main church the last video shows people lining up to ring a small mounted bell with a chain using their teeth in the belief that that their teeth will be protected from tooth aces!