Crossbow Passione in AssisiIn Umbria, you know spring is in the air when the balestrieri (“cross-bowers”) compete in the piazzas seated behind their crossbows, one eye closed, taking aim. The crossbow is an inherent part of colorful medieval festivals animating Umbria, “Italy’s green heart” and here in Assisi, La Compagnia Balestrieri di Assisi is integral part of the wondrous pageantry of Assisi’s early May festival, il Calendimaggio, celebrating spring.
I balestrieri were in Piazza Santa Chiara today in a pre-Calendimaggio competition, some in red tunics designating their allegiance to la Parte di Sotto (“Lower Assisi”).
Blue earmarks la Parte di Sopra (“Upper Assisi”) and the targets across the piazza were bordered in the colors of the two competing teams. The crossbows were lined up along the railing enclosing the piazza, nose down and spectators leaning on the barriers admired the intricate carvings on the stocks of walnut. In Gubbio, crossbowers often carve their own stocks but Assisi’s crossbows are the work of Dino Perla, noted maestro d’armi (“master craftsman of weapons”).
The crowd applauded as the bolt of young Diego’s crossbow, pierced the target within a hairline of a bullseye. In crimson tunic and black tights, Diego cranked his crossbow for another shot as teammates congratulated him and proffered advice for his next shot. The crossbow launches the crossbow bolt at a force of over a ton and although, now a weapon used only for sport, evoking Italy’s medieval past, it was once the most devastating weapon a single soldier could fire. In fact, in the 12th-century, Pope Innocent II banned the use of the crossbow “by Christians against Christians” (!)
Founded in 1980, La Compagnia Balestrieri di Assisi is now 100 members strong ranging in age from eighteen to sixty. I asked Sergio, senior crossbower, why a young person aspires today to be a balestriere: “This is a sport centered on a re-evaluation of our history and every crossbower does not just aim at excellence in shooting the crossbow: everyone also researches the historical roots of the crossbow. This is all about passione.”
La passione: the life force of Italy.
Click here to see – and FEEL! – Calendimaggio splendor
Click to read about Assisi’s stunning medieval festival, Calendimaggio
Click here for more on passione in Italy’s festivals.
Click here for more on Assisi’s Calendimaggio festival.
Read about the election of Calendimaggio’s Madonna Primavera
Read about the crossbow contest as a Calendimaggio preview
Read about the passione lived during Calendimaggio – and not only.
Click here to read about pre-Calendimaggio “fever”
Click here to read about – and see – the “blessed” beginning of Calendimaggio
Find out the signs that Calendimaggio is “just around the corner”
Read about an early May Umbrian festival not to miss
Click here to read about passione in Umbria’s astounding May festivals