A church packed with votive offerings, two processions every year, a brotherhood, a family that cares for the statue of the Madonna and the competition to become part of the organizing committee: this is the Festival of Our Lady of the Roses in Piglio.
The story began in 1656 when there was a terrible plague and the population of Piglio entrusted itself to the Madonna of the Roses and they were freed from that terrible evil. It was October 30, and half of the town’s inhabitants had already died when the others came together to pray in front of an ancient Byzantine image of the Madonna, and that statue made the miracle.
The withered roses returned to bloom at the foot of the sacred image and with this signal the plague ended and the country celebrated with joy and hope. The citizens decided to build a large church on the site where the statue had been and began to donate votive offerings.
Seeing that the miracle had been so successful, people began to ask other graces. At the bottom many other towns had taken refuge in religion attributing the end of the plague especially to San Rocco, but if those Saints could resolve specific problems, the Madonna had a ‘different power’.
In Piglio at the end of the plague the devotion to Our Lady of the Roses started, and it has been celebrated for over 360 years in a very original way that involves the whole town.
The day after Pentecost, the statue is carried in procession and is left in the central church of Santa Maria. The festival lasts almost a week, and in those days a family is randomly selected to welcomes the little statue into their home and they show it to the faithful offering cookies and cakes to visitors.
I was told this story by one of the members of the Brotherhood of the Rose who take care of the church and of the whole organization. Participation in the Brotherhood is deeply felt, and every year new faithful join. To eight young and stalwart men is the task to carry on their shoulders the statue that ,with its structure, weighs over 300 kilograms.
In October, the reverse procession takes place: the statue is brought back to the church. Then we decide who we will be the organizing committee of the festival the following year. It ‘s so democratic that it has worked for centuries!
A visit to the church is to experience an emotional leap. The church is well cared for with its lantern painted blue and it is packed with votives, many of which are framed and displayed along the side walls next to lanterns and other images that are carried in the procession. Focusing on some of them you can read stories and understand the emotional lives of the people from recent and many years ago.
Two children in baby clothes reveal a grace which asked for a pair of twins. Silver hearts refers to problems of the heart and embroidered handkerchiefs reveal explicitly the story of those who made them.
The general feeling is so strong that one is wishing to participate in the procession and to experience with the town the effort and the joy of celebrating ‘liberation from evil’, from the plague of 1656 and from those traumas that plague us today. For those who are not Italian, this is an experience of one of the main characteristics of our traditions.
When you go to Piglio you can recognize the church by its colour and the dozens of roses planted in her small entrance garden, a riot of bloom that is repeated throughout the summer!