June 20, 2013, Abruzzo, Christianity, Faith & Belief, Family & Community, Italia, L'Aquila, News, Notes, Tourist Attractions & Destinations, Travel & Tourism

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
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

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.

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A groan grasps the peanut near the offending anthology.A groan grasps the peanut near the offending anthology.


June 22, 2013 1:42 am


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??

June 23 2013 11:30 am


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.

June 22, 2013 11:27 pm


Wow – not at all what I’d expect to find in such a quaint/picturesque place. :-)

June 23 2013 11:29 am


No, it is quite surprising that these traditions have survived for so long.

June 27, 2013 8:30 am

Salika Jay

Oh god, that picture alone was enough for me to get goose bumps. That being said, it’s interesting to hear about a snake festival.

July 01 2013 11:52 am


Yes, and I'm not a great fan of snakes either.

July 4, 2013 11:34 am


I don’t mind snakes as long as they’re at a distance. Funny how Italians seem to have a festival for everything under the sun.

July 04 2013 16:35 pm


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

July 5, 2013 3:18 pm

Opus T. Penguin

How about… NO!

July 09 2013 15:17 pm


Great response that can be uttered as you run:)

July 6, 2013 12:18 am

Brendan Monroe

Cannot believe I missed that! Your account of it all makes this town, at this time, sound like a cross between an Indiana Jones movie and something by Franz Kafka. Wild!

July 09 2013 15:19 pm


If that's the case I may have stirred in too much imagination. Apart from the snake festival the town is Ohh so quiet:)

July 8, 2013 7:10 pm


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.

July 09 2013 15:28 pm


Not my thing either - although we have one that left its 'shirt' in the driveway a few days ago.

July 14, 2013 11:15 pm

Mary {The World Is A Book}

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.

July 16 2013 15:26 pm


Cocullo spreads over a rather small hill top so though a good strategy keeping your distance could be problematic;)

July 16, 2013 2:53 pm


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!

July 16 2013 15:33 pm


Strange indeed - as are the ways strange affect us people.

July 17, 2013 8:02 am

Louisa @ My Family & Abruzzo

They also have a snake festival in Pretoro where the organisers walk up to the crowd and wrap a snake around them….I’m usually running at that point. : )

July 17 2013 15:28 pm


I didn't know that, but I'm going to Chieti tomorrow and might have time to take a look around. Thanks for the tip.

July 30, 2013 1:26 pm


Very interesting post. Thanks for sharing! But, now I am not going to Cocullo… No, thank you!

July 30 2013 19:56 pm


I'd have thought you'd be immune to wild animals by now.

July 30 2013 19:56 pm


I'd have thought you'd be immune to wild animals by now.

August 02 2013 00:29 am


I am. But, not to the SNAKES!!!!!!!!!!!! :)

July 31, 2013 9:32 pm


Absolutely terrified of snakes so I think I’ll have to pass on this festival!

August 05 2013 17:09 pm


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

August 5, 2013 6:54 pm


Now a cheese festival – count me in!

August 7, 2013 10:21 pm

Sand in my Suitcase

Ummm. Don’t think we’ll go to Cocullo for the snake festival… But we’d visit Italy again for its food and wine!

August 08 2013 17:17 pm


I'm sure you can have both snake festival and the famous Italian food and wine in one go:)

August 23, 2013 4:44 pm


I love festivals but this is one I’ll be skipping – I’m petrified of snakes, especially snakes on the loose!

August 25 2013 10:41 am


And I thought you loved all kinds of animals, Laurel:)

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