Sant’Antonio abate, also known as Anthony the Great, Anthony of Egypt. Anthony of the Desert, Anthony the Anchorite (Qumans, around 251 – desert of Thebaid, 17 January 357) was an Egyptian hermit, who is considered the first Abbot and the founder of Christian monasticism.
He’s also known for his fight against the Devil during his hermitage in the desert of Thebaid (Eastern Egypt). The tradition says he overcame repeated attacks by the Devil, hit by fire and flames, and he was found unconscious, full of wounds and deep burns, and carried by the people who used to bring him food to the village church, where he recovered. That’s also why in Italy we commonly call Saint Anthony’s fire different skin diseases, such as Herpes Zoster.
He’s also known as the protector of farm animals, that’s why he’s often represented surrounded by animals.
Folk traditions to celebrate Saint Anthony
The veneration of Saint Anthony is commonly found in many folk traditions of Italy. Many places celebrate the Saint: usually after the mass, there’s the blessing of animals, bread and farm products; many places give ciambelle (doughnuts) or bread to the crowd; some other places celebrate with what we call fuochi di Sant’Antonio, “Saint Anthony’s fires”, big fires put up in the town squares.
Saint Anthony celebrations in Teramo province
In Teramo province, especially Val Fino valley and our area (Vomano valley and the towns surrounding it), we keep a very nice and characteristic tradition to celebrate the Saint.
“Lu Santandònje“, the dialectal pronunciation of Saint Anthony, gave the name to groups of people, named “Li Santandunìjr” indeed, who still play “lu ddu bbotte” (typical Abruzzese accordion), Zampogne (Italian double chantered pipes), guitars, handcrafted instruments of folk origins, like “vurre vurre” and other percussions. They sing a long folk song dedicated to Saint Anthony’s story, emphasizing his fight against the Devil, with a person dressed up like the Saint and another person representing the Devil. These folk bands used to go around the village (and still do!), ringing the doorbell of each house in the town and performing Saint Anthony’s song, receiving sausages, cheese, eggs, wine and other stuff people had at home.
We also have a typical pastry (who had doubts about it, right?), called “li cellìtte” (the little birds), made with white wine and stuffed with grape jam. Every nonna has her recipe and makes them for Saint Anthony’s celebrations! They’re very very yummy!
The festival of “Li Santandunìr” in Cermignano
In Cermignano, on January 17th every year, they celebrate “Lu Sandandonje“, a festival dedicated to Saint Anthony’s bands and begging songs to celebrate this important Saint. It’s a beautiful way to keep this tradition alive, with hundreds of people visiting the town, drinking wine and eating li cellìtte and other street food, like deep fried pizza dough stuffed with prosciutto, sausage sandwiches and many other things!
It’s so nice to go around and listen to the different bands performing our traditional songs, with Saint Anthony and the Devil chasing each other along the streets! You can also see an exposition of old images of the little town and its inhabitants or find artisans showing their fascinating old techniques, like basket weaving. The whole experience is just amazing! We never miss it, it’s a must-go every winter in January!
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