Feast of Saint Anthony – celebrated in Abruzzo every January

Every January 16 in Fara Filorum Petri, a small village in Abruzzo – the miracle of Saint Anthony Abbott is relived. He is known as the patron saint of animal keepers, butchers and basket makers as well as guarding against fires. Born in 251 AD in Egypt and the son of wealthy parents, he renounced his riches and found solace in meditation and lived in the desert. Here he was tempted many times by the Devil and renounced him many times.
He is also remembered and celebrated in Abruzzo for the expulsion of the advancing French army  into Italy in 1799.
Each hamlet of the village creates a “farchia”- enormous columns of reed cane which are bound together tightly and then paraded through the village and brought all together in the main piazza. The heavy columns are hauled up by many men and then set fire to. Many are filled with fireworks also, so a spectacular scene to behold in the bitter cold night of January on the edge of the Maiella National Park.
I was fortunate enough to be part of the festivities one cold winter. The festa started weeks before at each hamlet preparing the ‘farchia’ – the locals gather to eat and drink wonderfully prepared food by the team of Abruzzese women, songs and praises to Saint Anthony would be sung throughout the evening.
On the final evening of the burning of the ‘farchie’ thousands of Italians fill the piazza. After the long procession, the singing, the praying, the grand finale spectacular of the burning and fireworks follows. The columns are thought to symbolise the oak forest that Saint Anthony’s presence turned into troops to repel the French army of 1799.