Bolsena’s July Living Tableaux
Certamente, the brutality of the martyrdom of Bolsena’s Santa Cristina in the fourth century contrasts dramatically with the serene bucolic beauty of the Lake Bolsena area. The fifth century text of the Saint’s Passio kept alive the story of her martyrdom, metamorphosing into a medieval miracle play. In the sixteenth century, the multiple episodes of her martyrdom became the beloved Misteri di Santa Cristina, ten tableaux acted out each year on her feast day, July 24th, by the Bolsenesi.
Every Bolsena pre-teen girl dreams of playing Santa Cristina in one of the ten misteri. Effective backdrops to the living tableaux of her many grisly tortures are the imposing fifteenth-century Monaldeschi castle, Bolsena’s noble palaces and the Renaissance church dedicated to her made of volcanic rock, basalt (Lake Bolsena fills in a volcanic crater).
The Emperor Diocletian’s multiple “inventive” tortures of the Saint included the wheel, beating with rods, the cutting of her tongue and exposing her to writhing snakes. He ordered drowning, too, with a stone around her neck – but she came up floating. The stone (with her footprints) is still today in the Basilica di Santa Cristina.
Nowadays, her Roman torturers are handsome, muscley, sun-tanned young men: the gyms and tanning salons of Bolsena must be fully booked in June!