by Rachel Hiser Remmes

Religious festivals are an important and long-standing tradition in Southern Italy. Some of them, dating back to the Early Christian era, continue to this day. Specifically, an annual ritual recently finished in the Puglia to honor the feast day of St. Anthony the Great, the Egyptian hermit from the mid-third century, on January 17. Fòcara Novoli is a three day festival, involving processions, a monumental fire pyre, and endless spectacle, to commemorate the purification of the new year. Legend has it that St. Anthony descended to hell to steal the devil’s fire, and so, he has become associated with fire in the Salento. An image of him is placed on top of the pyre that is annually lit on the eve of his feast day.

Michelangelo, The Torment of St. Anthony, 1487-88.

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