We have started seeing posters announcing the sagra of the week, the summer-time festivals that are held in every corner of Italy. Here in Ascoli each sestiere, or neighborhood, has its own sagra, and the little hill towns all the over the province have them slated throughout the summer, as well. They are frequently sponsored by a church, thrown in conjunction with a saint’s feast day, and usually include a procession or other religious observance as part of the activity line-up. But for the most part, as with everything in Italy, it boils down to the food. For while a sagra may proclaim a saint day, the bigger headline on the poster is always the type of delicacy they will be cooking up.
We are looking forward to next weekend’s sagra at the Porta Romana district, as the highlighted food will be spaghetti all’amatriciana served in the shadow of the ancient Roman gate to the city. Well. Can’t say no to that, can we?
Last week’s was a fun one, though. The neighborhood by the church of San Pietro Martire threw a party in commemoration of the sacra spina, or holy thorn. They have a thorn said to come from the crown Jesus was forced to wear, preserved in an ornate reliquary in the church. It is usually under lock and key and we have not had the chance to gaze upon it up close and personal until this event, when they threw wide the metal gate that usually protects the relic and allowed us access to it. Almost. The reliquary was kept behind protective glass. But still. Worth the trip.
The event was officially called the Festa della Sacra Spina and the sagra della crispella. Not knowing what a crispella was, we thought it a good thing to investigate. As we approached the roped off area, the streets were festooned with colorful lights and music was coming from a stage area. We saw a line of several old ladies departing, all carrying bottles of vino and thought that was a funny sight. Unfortunately, the camera was left at home. Tents were erected in a little piazza to serve up the mysterious food, and a group was gathered on the perimeter to watch the solemn procession leave the church. The holy thorn was not paraded through town as I’d assumed it would be, so I’m not quite sure what the point of the procession was, and to be honest, it was a little sparse and disappointing. I don’t know if it is indicative as far as processions go in this area, or if it was just an off-night. Thus, we headed to the table where tickets are sold and asked for two crispelle, per favore and a bottle of water. Tempting as a cold beer sounded, it was just too hot for booze. I’d get woozy.
The crispelle turned out to be kind of like Indian fry bread, but without the honey. They could be ordered plain (ours) or with prosciutto. Honestly, after a few bites, I was done. The honey really would have made them palatable. As it was, they tasted rather greasy and…well, a little bland. Now we know.
Before leaving I had to investigate the Pesca di Beneficenza set up in the historic Romanesque church of Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio across the street. Dating from the tenth century, it’s an interesting place in itself and rarely open. Inside we found a kind of luck-of-the-draw raffle where you pay two euros and pull a number out of a jar. About one hundred prizes were lining the walls and the number you draw corresponds with a prize. I saw a nice bike, a whole prosciutto, and some fine wines among the shelves of little toys, stuffed animals and whatnots. Heck, it’s for the church, you’d have bought a number, too. I figured anything that could net me my very own prosciutto would be worth two euro. My number, however, presented me with a very cute hair clip, useful for my long, flowing locks (see profile photo). I’ll be giving that to the little girl next door.
We went back to the piazza to listen to the band playing on the stage. Not too talented a group, unfortunately, but that didn’t stop them from belting it forth and shaking it down, anyway. More power to ‘em. While standing there we heard a commotion over at the raffle table and I looked in time to see a kid of about 10 jumping up and down in absolute glee. I nudged Bryan and said, “look, the boy got the bike!” The man running the table came out and rang a bell and everyone inside was clapping and slapping the kid on the back. He stepped out of the church pumping his arms in the air and yelled, “Wooooo! PROSCIUTTOOOOOO!!!!” Now I ask you, is that an only in Italy moment or what? I can’t imagine any ten-year old in America getting that excited about winning a ham.
But what of the wine we saw the old ladies toting? Back at the ticket tent a guy started unloading a case of bottles and arranging them on the table. Aha! I had to investigate this and found…private label church wine for the festa of the sacra spina! Three measly euros a bottle! Sold! I proudly carried my bottle through town as we hit the passeggiata before making our way home. Turns out to be a nice Rosso Piceno, by the way, so the church got themselves a good vintage. I love the label and have decided that I’ll not pass up a sagra if I can possibly help it.