It’s Cerreto’s Mayhem Time Again

‘Mayhem in Cerreto’, my post on the Baldoria at, needs little adding to it. I again attended the ritual this year (it takes place from 9 pm the second Saturday after Easter Sunday) and realised that its origins are more complex than at first realised.

There are at least three origins posited for Cerreto’s Baldoria.

First is the pagan rite of celebrating the advent of spring by literally discarding the dead wood of winter and using it to light a giant bonfire next to the church.

Second is the religious rite of the Madonna Del Buon Consiglio (Madonna of Good Counsel) with the recitation of vespers in the beautiful church of Cerreto before the lighting of the bonfire. The rite always takes place on the night of the Baldoria so it’s another moveable feast.

The religious festival has its origins in the St John Gospel passage describing the marriage of Cana where Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water into wine.

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine. And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you”.

It’s, of course, the ‘do whatever he (i.e. Jesus) tells you’, that is the good counsel Mary gives.

Third is the celebration of the victory of the Cerretans over Pisan domination in 1376.

An old boy at Cerreto explained to me that the whole celebrations are an act of purification, both religious and pagan. I was reminded of similar ceremonies in Hindu India and of the primaeval conflict between purity and danger.The baldoria is a bit like having a ritual bath!

It doesn’t really matter too much, unless you are an argumentative historian, which of these reasons is the correct one. The fact is that all three coalesce to provide a good reason for the inhabitants to meet with their friends and relatives, warm up, enjoy a cake and a glass of wine and have a convivial time together.

Personally, however, I choose reason number one as it’s a good impetus to get my orto (allotment) properly started and start preparing the soil for planting.

This year the baldoria was lower-key than the one I described in my previous post on it. There were, for example, no candles lit to signpost the way up to Cerreto from Borgo a Mozzano. There wasn’t a band playing and no sign of any majorettes (thank goodness!). This is because the special baldoria takes place every three years so next time it’s round again will be next year. Setting up the kilometres of candles all the way from Borgo to Cerreto takes time and preparations start shortly after christmas. Don’t fail to be there!

The bonfire this year, however, was still as spectacular as ever, becoming truly hot even at the far end of the Piazzetta facing the church. The omens also were good. The fire, lit by a small boy (under parental supervision), flared up in a blazonry of light and burnt to cinders without a hitch and without any part dropping lop-sidedely off.

The old-timers all agreed that this predicted a good agricultural season. Let us hope this bit of ancient country-lore reveals itself correct as the last time we were there the fire took ages to start because of the recent rains and, indeed, the year was followed by a very hot summer which caused true growing pangs for several vegetables.

(Starting the bonfire)

The bell-ringing ‘a martello’ (ie the ringers are actually standing next to the bells Quasimodo style and hitting them with a hammer) gives a wonderfully mediaeval atmosphere.( I am also glad to say that I detected no heretics among the flames – no auto-da-fé here….).

(The fire and bells in full swing)

Long may the baldoria and other customs in our part of the world continue without the hindrances of health and safety regulations or the menace of diminishing populations and interest for they are supreme manifestations of social solidarity and hope for the future of the country I now call mine.

2 thoughts on “It’s Cerreto’s Mayhem Time Again

  1. Personally I would embrace all motives for having the Baldoria they all seem perfectly acceptable and rational you seem to hint at the Wicker Man and funnily I always seem to see a figure appearing in the flames who knows if actually in the olden days this too happened whereby bodies were cremated publicly as happens in India and sadly this is the case right now with that terrible accident in beautiful Kerala we need to pray for these souls. Fire has always fascinated man as in mythology it was stolen from the gods and it is revelatory that as humans it is often misused as in wars as Horoshima and Nagasaki; it heats us in hearths it cooks food despite for centuries man as animals ate raw foods probably best in transferring all goodness to us it was worshipped in the form of the Sun Akhanaten in Ancient Egypt our planet is a burning ball of fire within which sometimes spout out in spectacular volcanic displays furthermore the sun lights our way and aides our planets seasons to change and renew so thanks to the Baldoria for reminding us of the mysteries of our planet Earth.

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