La Sagra dei Saraceni. Villamagna.
The Saracens, fierce warriors from what is now Syria, regularly plundered the Abruzzo coast and inland villages. One particular July day, their target was Villamagna. But on the road into the village, a young girl dressed in beautifully-coloured robes suddenly appeared before them and caused a curtain of fire to halt their advance.
But the relief was only temporary. The Saracens pressed on with their advance, only for the young girl to appear once again and raise another fiery barrier. Undeterred, the warriors kept coming forward until right outside the village gates, the young girl made her third and final appearance. Huge flames sprung from the ground around the invaders and mighty explosions made the earth shake.
This time, the nerves of the Saracens broke and they fell to the ground in fear. When they dared look up, the young girl had finally disappeared and all the villagers had fled into the church for sanctuary.
The warriors gathered their strength and courage for one final assault on Villamagna and with their swords glinting in the sun, they stormed into the church where the local people were praying for salvation.
The Saracen leader suddenly stopped in his tracks and gave a startled cry. In the church was a small statute of Villamagna’s patron saint – Santa Margherita, a young girl dressed in beautifully-coloured robes. It was the same young girl who had barred their path to the village !
Such was the effect of this miraculous appearance of Santa Margherita on the Saracens that there and then, they all converted to Christianity and knelt in prayer with the people that just moments earlier, they’d sworn to kill.
Villamagna’s miraculous deliverance from the plundering Saracen hordes has been commemorated ever since, in typical Abruzzo sagre style, with solemn church services punctuated with rather more secular entertainment.
To mark the three barriers of fire that blocked the path of the Saracens, there are three firework displays, the first at 8am; the second at the end of the re-enactment of the Saracens’ raid at around lunchtime – perhaps not sticking strictly to historical timing, but sensibly scheduled to allow everyone to then disperse and enjoy a leisurely Sunday lunch. And maybe a snooze back at Villasfor2 ?
But by early evening, everyone was raring to go again. The village was decked in festive lights and the food and drink stalls had replenished their supplies. Prosecco seemed to be the favoured tipple – either on its own; or mixed with Campari; or, intriguingly, with watermelon juice. Massively refreshing for a warm night.
At around 9pm, the evening’s entertainment began in earnest. In the Piazza Marconi, they’d set up a beautiful old wrought-iron bandstand.
There were plenty of chairs for everyone (and more round the back just in case), so lean back and sip your your drink and eat probably more porchetta than is prudent and drift away to orchestral selections from Verdi’s ‘La Traviata’.
And, since you’re in Italy, there’s also chat and good humour and laughter which continues long after the band have finished; and long after the last of the day’s three firework displays; and probably long into the night as well – at least until the food runs out and the bars close. And there didn’t seem much imminent danger of that happening anytime soon…
And just in case you wanted to wind down gently and prolong the party mood, there was more music scheduled for the following evening.
We left at around eleven and cars were still arriving in Villamagna. The parking space we’d shoehorned our way into earlier was snapped up as soon as it was vacated.
There was a scent of flowers and fireworks coming through the car windows as we slowly headed home.