Madonna Primavera Reigns Over Assisi’s Calendimaggio
Fanciful legends, myths, age-old folktales, medieval morality plays, ballads and poetry are woven into the rich tapestry of Calendimaggio, Assisi’s three-day May celebration of the arrival of spring. A much-loved Assisi legend recounts that long ago, a hooded old crone crept into a noble banquet, ignored by all the merrymakers except for five young damsels who proffered her food and drink. The old hag threw back her veil, revealing herself as La Primavera (“Spring”) and the young damsels who assisted her are remembered today when five young damsels are chosen to represent each of the two factions of Assisi – La Nobilissima Parte de Sopra (the upper area of the town) and La Magnfica Parte de Sotto(the lower area). Another folktale recounts that Springtime rectifies the chaos of the natural world thanks to her five daughters who put order and harmony into the five time periods of the day: dawn, morning, noon, afternoon, evening.
Whatever the origin of La Madonna Primavera (“Lady Spring”) tradition, the election of Lady Spring is a culminating moment of the three-day Calendimaggio pageantry. On April 30th in the crowded Sala della Conciliazione of Assisi’s 14th-century majestic city hall, noble lords and ladies from both Parti walk stately before the young damsels in elegant medieval dress, wearing floral crowns and carrying bouquets, as all head to the stage. The damigelle from La Parte de Sotto wear rich red, matching their Parte banner and the five young damigelle from Sopra, dressed in springtime pastels, are backdropped by the blue banner of La Nobilissima Parte de Sopra.
Assisi’s mayor opens the ceremony with a welcome to all the “locals”, wishing them luck as they launch once again into a friendly (!) three-day competition lauding springtime. Nobility from both parts read medieval poetry lauding the virtues and beauty of their damsels who are then serenaded with an array of musical ballads by the world-famed Assisi choir. As the choir closes with the inno (or hymn) of Assisi is sung, locals present join in , some of them quite emotionally.
Only one of the ten lovely young women will be Madonna Primavera: on the second Calendimaggio day, ten archers (five for each parte), will compete in the main square in front of the seated damsels, each of them appearing to be regally tranquil, each hoping to win the most coveted honor for a young Assisi girl. Each archer wears an armband, hiding the name of a damigella. The one whose arrow comes closest to the bullseye, takes off his armband with a flourish – and reveals the damsel’s name he was wearing. The crowd goes wild as Madonna Primavera moves timidly forward to thank her archer. Viva la Primavera!
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