In elegant ancient Roman garb, blonde-haired Greta told me with pride about her performances in Bolsena’s July 24th celebration of the lake-side town’s patron saint Cristina, I Misteri di Santa Cristina (those scenes depicting the martyrdom travails of the town’s 4th-century Saint).
Greta has performed ever since age 12. “And I’ve played Santa Cristina twice!,” she exclaimed with evident enthusiasm.
This year on the morning of July 24th, Greta happily posed for a photo with timid, young Ukrainian immigrant Valeria, who spoke little Italian but quite good English.
Escaping to Italy with her family just three months ago, young Valeria was understandably pensive. And as I talked to all participating in the Misteri presentations, I noted their affection for Valeria. And hoped the festa brought her needed distraction.
Little Elia would soon climb up the stairs with Valeria for the presentation of the mistero. His proud mother was most happy to have him join Valeria for a photo:
Maria Pia, a Venezuelan seamstress (married to a bolsenese), had adjusted Valeria’s golden toga…
…and then also stitched the golden waistband of the elegant dress of the smiling young Santa Cristina:
As all prepared for the scene, I chatted with beaming, bearded Eugenio, one of the four organizers of the ten Misteri di Santa Cristiana. Eugenio works with Valeria (make-up and hairdos), Renzo (a protagonist in the mistero as well as “organizer-behind the-scenes”, Andrea and PierAldo (multiple tasks including stage sets).
Flanking Eugenio on his right was twinkle-eyed Mario, serpentologo serpentologist (from the Marches region) smiling mischievously. He was a key contributor to the scene to be presented here: the attempted torturing of the young Santa Cristina with snakes.
Since 2015, the use of local snakes for the scene has been forbiddeb due to the vociferous protests of animal-rights groups.
As a result, for years now, Mario has brought his snakes to Bolsena for July 24th: boa and coral snakes.
As we chatted, Eugenio told me that after a two-year enforced “pause,” the Misteri di Santa Cristina were fully and enthusiastically “alive” much to the gratified excitement of the local townspeople.
As per tradition, five misteri had been presented the night before and five were presented in the morning of July 24th.
The torture of la ruota (“the wheel”) had been acted out up near the town’s medieval castello…
Pino and I had arrived at Piazza San Giovanni in time to take in the preparations for the morning mistero there of the torture of the young Cristina with snakes commanded by Roman judge, Giuliano, and approved by the young Cristina’s own parents, furious at their daughter’s conversion to Christianity and her refusal to worship their Roman deities.
The snake charmer appointed by the Roman judge was played by bearded, long-haired, Renzo, grinning devilishly, as he played il serparo for the second year:
All participants in the torture-by-snakes mistero soon climbed up the ladders to the stage, boosted by assistants. Santa Cristina, too.
As the torture-by-snakes scene was being prepared, la ruota (“the wheel”) torture scene had concluded at il castello
And then, the procession bearing the venerated Santa Cristine relic wound solemnly down from the castello
Bolsenesi awaited eagerly to see the scene, grouped in the shade near a medieval town entrance.
As the procession arrived,..
I recognized Stefano, one of the relic portatori (“carriers”) whom Pino and I had met in a past misteri presentation. He gave me a big smile, “Ciao, Anna.”
I greeted Stefano as the procession passed, then turned to capture the snake-torture scenes as quickly as possible…as soon as the curtain was opened on the personages. I noted Greta in her black toga, writhing snake in hand, standing above Santa Cristina’s stern mother in regal red, seated next to her father in a white toga, arm outstretched, approving of the torture of his daughter with snakes.
I managed to capture Renzo, snake-charmer, lifting the snakes towards Cristina…
..but was not quick enough to catch the snakes turning on him. Il serparo collapsed at the feet of stern Roman guards, flanking Roman women in elegant gold.
The sipario (curtain) closed on the scene…and the procession continued on to the site of the next mistero:
As the procession moved on, Renzo and gruppo gathered for a photo for me:
Near me, a young Roman and Santa Cristina held the snakes about to be taken “home” to the Marches region by their serpentologo. But Mario’s snakes would be back in Bolena next July 24th.
Read more here about the Misteri di Santa Cristina
Click here for more on this glorious Bolsena celebration
See and feel the passione of the bolsenesi for the Misteri here.
Read about floral splendor for the Feast of Corpus Domini in Bolsena
Read about the “singing washerwomen” in Bolsena
Read more here about Santa Cristina and her feast day celebrations
Click here to read about Trattoria Da Picchietto
Read about a favorite eating spot in Bolsena, lakeside
Read about Bolsena’s many treasures.
Read about a memorable day at Lake Bolsena
Don’t MISS our favorite Bolsena gelateria!