Feast of San Giovanni


One of the most heartfelt religious and secular festivals in Rome of old was that of San Giovanni, the patron saint of the city, celebrated on June 24. The feast began on the night of the eve, the so-called ‘night of the witches’, during which witches were believed to be summoned to the Lateran meadows by the ghosts of Herodias and her daughter Salome, damned for having caused the beheading of the saint, and went around the city to capture souls before continuing on to Benevento, the city of witches par excellence. It was therefore essential to resort to magical rituals and forms of exorcism.

After having blessed their beds and doors, people would leave from all the districts of Rome by the light of torches and candles: once in the piazza, bonfires would be lit to drive out the occult forces, people would pray and eat snails in the taverns and shacks set up on the square. Some families even brought them from home, in a ‘callaro’, a huge pot, full of snails in sauce. In fact, eating snails, whose horns represented discord and worry, meant destroying adversity.

This magical night also involved dew, which was attributed healing powers and was collected from the meadows, and garlic, for the famous proverb ‘He who does not buy garlic on San Giovanni Day is poor all year round’. During the night, the baths of the Tiber were also opened to the public, and the inhabitants of the city could bathe in the fountain of San Giovanni: it was believed that during the day of his feast the saint would perform more miracles than during the rest of the year.

Popular participation was massive, people ate and drank in abundance and, above all, they made noise with trumpets, trumpets, cowbells, tambourines and firecrackers of all kinds to frighten the witches so that they could not pick the herbs used for their spells. The feast ended at sunrise: the firing of the Castel Sant’Angelo cannon announced the start of the mass celebrated by the Pope at the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano, after which gold and silver coins were thrown from the loggia of the basilica, thus unleashing the crowds present.

Today, unfortunately, the traditional feast of San Giovanni has almost completely lost its former importance, but it has been revived for some years now in some events organised for the occasion.

Place: Comune di Monterotondo, Piazza Guglielmo Marconi, 1, Rome, Italy
Date: Friday, June 24, 2022
Start: 8.00pm
Price: free

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Piazza Guglielmo Marconi, Rím, Taliansko



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