Cocullo snake festival

Italy is famous for its religious festivals and one of the most bizarre is undoubtedly the Cocullo snake festival.

Driving along the A25 from Rome to Pescara we passed a road sign Cocullo, and even though it was a cold, rainy day in the mountains and we had to drive uphill and backwards I insisted on stopping. A tiny village famous for a festival celebrating San Domenico in a sea of live snakes is simply too weird to be missed, so we pulled up outside the local police station and took a look around.

Cocullo-snake-festival-1 Cocullo snake festival
None of the 285 villagers ventured out, so we had the main square to ourselves. Hard to imagine that thousands of people from all over the world gather here on the first Thursday in May to witness the annual procession in celebration of the village saint who it carried through the streets covered in creepy, crawly snakes.

Luckily there were no snakes to be seen, but a ‘Mostra Permanente’ and after banging the doors and trying the phone number we found a civil servant in the mayor’s office willing to show us the exhibition. It was mainly a collection of photographs, but she explained that San Domenico Sorana was a Benedictine monk with the ability to cure and protect believers from storms, fevers, rabies and the bites of wild or poisonous animals. He also performed numerous miracles such as telling a wolf to return an abducted infant to the mother, making newly sowed fava beans bloom and multiplying grains for flour, and still had a great many worshipers among the locals.

Cocullo-snake-festival-2 Cocullo snake festival

Why these virtues should be rewarded by a coat of snakes remained unclear, but we were told that locals scoured the countryside for snakes in the months up to the procession, so their numbers varied from one year to the next. That the there were generally three species represented. And that they were only mildly poisonous. “No one has died yet”, as the woman said, but at this point she was getting tired of answering the same questions people from Cocullo always hear from outsiders, so she left us to study the photos alone and close the door on the way out.

Obviously, the fascination and dramatic appeal of the snake festival is not as great for the locals of Cocullo as it is for me and other foreigners.

Other religious anecdotes and manifestations like the Cocullo snake festival

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San Pietro in Bevagna: A divine beach in Puglia

Epiphany in Italy and La Befana – the generous witch

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31 replies
  1. Leigh
    Leigh says:

    I will never be visiting that place in May!! I can’t imagine being covered with snakes. And who get’s the fun job of collecting them??

    • admin
      admin says:

      I think the locals do all the snake handling (before, during and after). But I would check under my bed an extra time before accepting a room in Cocullo in May.

    • admin
      admin says:

      Yes, I just missed a ‘sagra di polpette’ here last week. Would have love to participate in what we Danes would call a ‘frikadellefest’.

  2. Danni
    Danni says:

    Oooh snakes are NOT my thing. Even though I think actually seeing this festival take place would be pretty incredible, you can be sure I’d be staying at least a few rows back in the crowd. I’d like to keep my distance from the snakes please and thank you.

  3. Mary {The World Is A Book}
    Mary {The World Is A Book} says:

    This was so interesting and yet so cool and bizarre. I’m not very fond of snakes but would have stopped here too. It may be great to go in May but from a very distant place to see the festivities. “Mildly poisonous” is enough to make me think twice of getting too close. Glad you guys got see the exhibits.

  4. Adri
    Adri says:

    The old ways live, don’t they? I think it is wonderful that festivals like this continue. Your photographs , especially that first one, are wonderful.

    My grandfather was born in Montesilvano, Pescara. I am sure he must have attended this festival as a youth, but I do not recall his ever having spoken of it. I was quite fearful of snakes when I was a kid. My brother, on the other hand, kept them as pets. He even had one he called “Joe.” Oh my!

    • admin
      admin says:

      Understandably – and there are so many alternative festivals to choose from. Like for instance the cheese rolling festival in San Valentino.


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