Le Vie della Perla

30 March 2018

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The “Vattienti” ritual in Easter.

During the Holy Week before Easter, in Verbicaro near Cosenza, the annual ritual of the Vattienti (the Flagellants) takes place.

The hamlet of Verbicaro

Every years during the Holy Week in Verbicaro, a village on the Northern part of the Tyrrhenian coast near Cosenza, it takes place the Vattienti ritual, traced back to the Middle Ages: the flagellants (Vattienti) flog themselves the front of the thighs until they draw blood as a sign of devotion and leave the blooded traces on the doors and the walls of the village while they go around in.

A bloody footprint

The Catholic Church doesn’t like these kind of rites, so it doesn’t allow them to enter into the churches and holy places. This celebration was almost disappeared, but during these last years it has been taken place again. In the night of the Holy Thursday, Verbicaro gather many worshippers and curios people nearby. The atmosphere is magical, everyone waits for something that is about to happen, nobody knows when it will start. Some people are gathered at the main square in front of the San Giuseppe church, others are next to the front doors where the flagellants should pass.

The “Vattienti first meet to have dinner together before wearing the traditional clothes: they stay in a “catojo” which is a winery where they eat lamb, salame, cheese and drink red local wine. At about 10:00 pm they are divided in several little groups of two or three people and slowly they reach different starting point. The clothes they wear and the tool they use for hit themselves are red: a shirt and a shorts to leave the legs uncovered which will be flog for drawing blood. They walk barefoot. The rite of the flogging starts almost at the midnight when these little groups of flagellants start to run among the streets of the village and stop to specific points in an alternative way. The path is lit by small lamps and torches which make suggestive the atmosphere. All around there is silence, you can hear just the noise of the barefeet which seem to announce their arriving. The crowd quietly they chase the prints of the palms of the bloody hands on the walls or the footprints or following small pools of blood and wine. In this rite, the wine has an important role: it is offered by the crowd to the flagellants to disinfect the wounds.

An alley in Verbicaro

A whistle announces their arriving in prefixed points where they start to scrub their legs until their muscle are warm enough for hitting them by the cardillo, a cork cylinder with glass pieces for flogging the skin. Then they kneel for awhile and start again to run.

Man mano che il percorso prende forza, aumenta la concitazione, la fatica e le gambe dei flagellanti diventano completamente rosse, irrorate dal sangue. Una delle tappe principali è la chiesa di San Giuseppe, dove i Vattienti si radunano nella parte bassa per percuotersi, davanti alla platea di curiosi assiepata sulla gradinata principale o accerchiandoli in assoluto silenzio. E’ un momento di forte pathos: il rumore della flagellazione è potente e anche la partecipazione del pubblico.

The visitors who are present at the event

As the path gets stronger, the excitement and the fatigue increase, and the flagellants legs become completely red, sprayed with blood. One of the main stops is at the San Giuseppe Church were the flagellants are gathered for flogging themselves surrounded by people who observe the rite and stay in absolutely silence. It is a moment of strong pathos: the noise of scourging is powerful, so strong as the audience participation. Then they go back up and kneel to pray. We are at the final of the rite: they start to walk fast, by running, and they stop at the ordinary decided points to leave their bloody prints on the walls.

The flagellants who walk among the streets of Verbicaro.

So they go to an old fountain, an ancient wash house, for washing themselves with cold water and to slow down and, finally, stop the blood from escaping. At last they wear their usual clothes and often go to church for taking part in the liturgy.

Giusy Mazzillo

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