The Pilgrim Companies
by PROF. ANTONIO BINI
from "Il Volto Santo di Manoppello" Anno XCVI n. 1 June 2011
For a number of years every day of the year pilgrims and visitors from around the world arrive at the sanctuary,while the solemn celebrations of the third Sunday in May remain still largely anchored to the Abruzzo devotion, in the wake of a centuries-old tradition of worship and veneration of the Holy Face.
A phenomenon of faith - common to many ancient Italian shrines - is still represented by companies of pilgrims, in the past much more widespread, which has survived to the present time, although adapting to the conveniences of modern society. I note with pleasure how May 15 last, after a 25 year interruption of the pilgrimage on foot, a group of young people from Santa Giusta da Lanciano has taken up once again the ancient tradition of participating in the procession of the Holy Face on the third Sunday in May, led by the banner of the Holy Face carried with enthusiasm by Filippo Valentini who was keen to show me how on the reverse of the
iconographic representation of the relic was indicated the year 1934.
Among the group were many young couples with their children who gathered on the steps of the Basilica at the end of the Mass, joyfully preparing themselves for the procession.
As usual, in fact, companies of pilgrims coming from the surrounding areas
are placed at the head of the procession. Padre Filippo da Tussio in his "Historical memories of the Holy Face" (1875) vividly describes the celebration of May "to which many people participated not only from the neighboring countryside, but also from distant places,"stressing that Manoppello welcomed "The very many pilgrim society from distant areas, from Friday evening to Sunday morning. It is a continuous arrival of pilgrims which comes along with manoppellesi to pay their tribute to the Holy Face". The testimony of Padre Philip describes for us a large and supportive extended community, able to join with faith in their common devotion to the Holy Face.
Until the sixties, many pilgrims found hospitality in homes and stables of the
country, while others preferred to lie on the bare floor of the sanctuary, as in other sanctuaries, practicing the ancient rite of "incubation" (incubatio), to which the people's devotion attributed the effects of penance (cf. V. Cianfarani, Ancient cultures of Abruzzo and the Adriatic Molise, 1978 109),
But back to the companies present for the procession of the May 15, 2011.
The company Vacri, in the province of Chieti - that includes people of all ages - has always been present in the rites of May, seamless in time. The community is preceded by three girls with the white dress of their First Communion. One in the center
bears the insignia of the company. Until the sixties, the community reached Manoppello on foot from Sablone says Raffaele (78 years) - following a route that included the ancient passage through several villages including Semivicoli,
Fara Filiorum Petri Roccamontepiano and Serramonacesca, often cutting through
hilly paths, on which converged other companies also aimed at Manoppello.
Raffaele had attended as a boy each year the pilgrimage. Then as a young man the search for a job took him like so many others to migrate away, then return to the country, with the desire to return to the ancient paths of faith of their communities which had imparted newer values acquired over time. Today the company arrived by the Manoppello bus, but along the way to the shrine they still sang the songs and recited prayers that marked the long pilgrimage on foot. These songs were recently collected in a booklet produced by the "Vol-Vacri Company of the Holy Face" which operates in the the Parish of San Biagio Vacri. A publication really appreciable as an expression of piety and distant in time, which has become an integral part of culture for the
vacrese community. In the past, the company remained in Manoppello on Monday too - like other companies - participating in the procession that brought the Holy Face to the Sanctuary.
From the book are some of the songs in dialect verses of the song of the pilgrims
"O Blessed Holy Face" for the time at the beginning of the procession exiting the Shrine
O santissimo Volto Santo
Mo 'nu n'arieme ,
dacci la santa benedizione
eg 'putercene ariturnà
O santissimo Volto Santo
Mo 'nu ce n'arieme ,
se n 'gia' revedeme qua
Another company - represented almost exclusively by women - comes from Carpineto della Nora, in the province of Pescara, led by the banner which during the year is kept in the parish church. Even the older members have not been able to tell in what year, or period began the traditional pilgrimage from their community, but all agree that these forms of worship passed down from generation to generation, from a distant past and which are in continuity until today.
The Bulletin aims to underline the significant human and spiritual value of these communities on their centuries old pilgrimages to the Shrine of the Holy Face, urging those who possess documentary and photographic evidence to report them to the shrine, including by e-mail address to firstname.lastname@example.org.
many thanks to Prof. Bini and Fr. Carmine Cucinelli O.F.M., Cap. for allowing me to publish my translation of this important study