“So what’s this event called again?” I inquisitively enquired as I barely made out the name when it was first mentioned. “‘Ndocciata…haven’t you heard of it?” he replied in a surprised tone. Embarrassed to admit outloud, I subtly shook my head.
However, the damage had been done. The fiery torch scene that he had described in the town of Agnone, Molise had fired up my curiosity. While I didn’t make it to the event this year, I’ve penciled it in for next December. Our friend, Jenifer Landor of Live and Learn Italian sheds light on this winter event.
The ‘Ndocciata in Agnone, Molise
Agnone is a relatively quiet town in winter, but comes alive in December when thousands flock to the town to see, not one, but two ‘Ndocciata processions – on the 8th and 24th. Their winter festival is unique – believed to have originated as a Samnite festival of fire when the torches, or ‘ndocce’ were used as a source of light during tribal ceremonies that usually took place at night.
In Christian times, the tradition of burning torches continued as a festive way for the community to light their way across the fields to church in town.
Different traditions reflected the changing times; in the middle ages it was believed that the fire would ward off witches, later the torches were built ever higher and larger for the youth of the town to impress a chosen girl: quickly quelled by a bucket of water if she was not impressed!
Still today, after the parade to St Anthony’s church, the Nativity is staged, when the burning torches are thrown on a bonfire to symbolise the casting out of negative feelings and a renewal for the year to come.
The enormous ‘ndocce, 3 to 4 meters high, are torches made of silver pine, indigenous to the region, with bundles of dried broom held together by twine. They are carried by men wearing long dark cloaks and black hats or hoods, beautifully lined and in heavy wool; a costume derived from the cloaks of the Samnite warriors.
A group of old men, well trained in the craft, starts to prepare the torches in the middle of summer: it is a long and laborious process. They shape, then dry the wood, shape again, and finally form fan-like structures. Up to 20 torches can be assembled together to form one structure. This is one of the traditions that the Agnonese work hard to keep alive – so imbedded are they in their ancient stories, arts, and crafts.
LIVE AND LEARN ITALIAN invites you to combine study with exploring the traditions and everyday life in Molise, mixing with the community and engaging in local activities.