Wednesday, 9 January 2013

16 January - The Farchie of Fara Filiorum Petri

To eventually (over the next week or so) bring together in one place the festival calendar for our little corner of Abruzzo, we begin with next week's Farchie of Fara Filiorum Petri:

16 January:  The Farchie of Fara Filiorum Petri

Fara Filiorum Petri, one of our favourite local villages, is an old town of Longobard origins with many of its ancient buildings intact and, most famously, is home to the grandest farchie celebration of Abruzzo.

The History of the Tradition

The tradition of the farchie most likely has its roots in pagan agricultural rites, many of which are still celebrated by the rural people of Abruzzo.  The burning of sacred fire was a ritual carried out, in pre-Christian times, in the early months of the year as protection from evil and a talisman of hope that sunshine in the warmer months to come will lead to rich harvests of crops in the year ahead.

An historic event during the 1798-99 French invasion of Abruzzo was probably responsible for the resurrection of the ancient ritual and its embodiment into popular tradition.  It is said that, on Christmas Eve of 1798, the French entered Fara's main city of Chieti and, despite the resistance of the inhabitants, the invasion ended in a massacre at nearby Guardiagrele.  Fearing for their lives, the people of Fara barricaded themselves into their homes and awaited the enemy invasion.

On the night of 16 January 1799, as the French were surrounding the town, Saint Anthony of Abate is said to have appeared.  As he did, the oak trees around the outskirts of Fara burst into roaring flames and, from a distance, looked like enormous warriors.  Seeing this, the French soldiers fled and Fara Filiorum Petri was spared from certain destruction and ruin.

Preparation of the Festivities

Starting in the February of the previous year, "contradaioli" (members of the local villages) begin collecting the green indigenous canes that will later be used to make the enormous farchie.  They are stored and dried and guarded with care over the next 11 months.  Neighbouring villages and mischievous teenagers have been know to surreptitiously steal into Fara in an attempt to make away with this valuable bounty.  So far, none have been successful.

The following January, "contradaioli" from each of the Fara neighbourhoods begins the highly competitive construction of its own farchie.  Two or three of the most skilled craftsmen spend the better part of several days working together on this task to very specific standards.  The beauty and flawlessness of each farchie is as important as the manner in which it burns, which must be in a unified way from bottom to top.  The completed farchie are huge - approximately 25 feet high and 3 feet in diameter - and enormously heavy.  Their transport and erected is not without danger.

Whilst the men prepare the farchie, so the women of the town put themselves to the equally enormous and important task of preparing the large feasts for all to enjoy.

The Day of The Festival

Although the festivities continue for a week, the main procession starts around mid-day on the 16th January.  Following a brief service at the church, all the farchie are brought to the town piazza from the neighbourhoods of Farawith much music and singing.  Some of the farchie are secured to decorated tractores, whilst others are carried on the shoulders of the enthusiastic contradaioli.  Tambourine players lead the procession and, straddling the farchie, is a contradaioli playing a horned instrument.  Traditional hymns are sung by the numerous people who complete the procession.

Under the strict control of the Commander of the Farchie, each farchie is secured into an upright position and the main ceremony begins.  

As the sun sets, the farchie are set ablaze and fireworks light up the sky.  There is heckling surrounding the construction of the various farchie with the contradaioli lauding praise on their own masterpiece while heatedly denouncing the slightest imperfection they perceive in the farchie of their neighbour.

After the farchie have been set ablaze, so the festivities begin.  Traditional songs are sung and great quantities of food, sweets and wine are consumed.  The statue of Saint Anthony d'Abate is carried on the shoulders of the townsmen to the burning farchie where a blessing takes place before the neighbour groups knock over their respective farchie.  The burned sections ar cut off and the the farchie are then carried back to their villages where they are again set on fire!

To follow:  
January:  Farchie of Serramonacesca
February: Carnival Time
March:  Easter
April:  Liberation Day
May:  Bucchianico Festa, Giro d'Italia
June:  Serramonacesca Festa di S'Onofrio & S'Antonio!  Ironman Italia
August:  Serramonacesca's Magna Majella
September:  Serramonacesca Festa di S'Onofrio & S'Antonio
October:  Serramonacesca's L'Aneme del la Morte
December:  Christmas

...And more!!


  1. Wow....

    What a fab legend.

    Perhaps you could post some video of this year.


  2. Glad you enjoyed! And a fab legend indeed. Will attempt a video, but not much hope there :(

    In the meantime, this is worth a view:

    As is this one: