Four celebrations each year for the one saint! This is the special connection between Guarcino and Saint Agnello, which is renewed every year.
The first celebration takes place on the first Sunday of May and provides for a pilgrimage to the hermitage of the saint. The festival follows the style of the Pagan celebrations dedicated to spring and to the revival of life in agriculture and aims to be favourable for summer crops.
In fact, for a mountain town, May is the real rebirth, and this in Guarcino coincides with the arrival of shepherds in their migration of livestock from the Pontine plain to the mountains of the Ernici and sometimes to the neighbouring Abruzzo.
It should be noted that in Naples, where Saint Agnello is patron for trying to protect the city from the Saracen attacks, the major celebrations take place on May 18th.
Two more celebrations take place in Guarcino in August, when the town fills with tourists, and many of them are previous emigrants who left the country for work and return to vacation in heart of the place.
Two events are organized for them: a pilgrimage on the Friday before the last Sunday of the month and then, on the coming Sunday, the largest festival with a solemn procession. For the occasion the bishop arrives and the statue of the saint is carried along the streets of the old town. This celebration was born over two centuries ago and is very much felt by the whole population while the summer pilgrimage to the hermitage has only begun a few decades ago to pay homage to the emigrants.
The last celebration is December 14, the true day of Saint’s anniversary, with another pilgrimage to the hermitage.
But who was Saint Agnello who inspired all these souls?
Agnello was originally from Naples where he founded a monastery. He pledged to liberate Naples and Sorrento from the Saracens and for this he became the Patron Saint of the Parthenopean city (Naples). He left Naples as a result of the Gothic War between the Byzantine Empire and Totila and took refuge in Guarcino where he lived in a hermitage and founded a hospital and died at the age of 61, around 596.
He became holy after the monk Peter in the tenth century said that he had been freed from a serious infirmity by the intercession of Agnello. To substantiate his cause, Peter collected twenty-two testimonies of miraculous healing.
In 1350 the Bishop of Alatri granted an indulgence to the many pilgrims who went to Guarcino and left a supply of money for the restoration of the church, but this only happened in 1748.
Two years later the church was struck by a landslide and the worship of Saint Agnello was moved to the church of St. Nicholas.
Participating in one of Saint Agnello’s celebrations at Guarcino means taking a leap back in time and experiencing the original spirit of the Italian hamlets and their historical traditions.
(A thank you to Luigi Benassi for the feeling with which he told the story of Guarcino and Saint Agnello)