Anne's Blog

Perugia: Celebrating San Costanzo with Il Torcolo

Date: January 31, 2020 - categories: , , , , , , , , , , - Leave your thoughts

On January 29th – the Feast of San Costanzo (Perugia’s first bishop and one of the town’s three patron saints) – I headed to Perugia for the traditional fiera (a grandissimo outdoor street market on a saint’s feast day – or the day following) and the celebratory events highlighting il torcolo (the sweet linked to this Saint).

The Church of San Costanzo just outside the medieval walls of this Umbrian hilltown seemed the designated place to start off the day.

Said to be built on the site of the mausoleum holding San Costanzo’s body after his martyrdom in the 2nd century, the small church was visited by many that morning.

The first person I met coming up the steps after her stop at the church was Signora Fernanda. Her blue eyes twinkled when I asked her if San Costanzo had winked his approval for her years ago. She told me that she had never asked the Saint.

On January 29th in the past, many an unmarried young woman went to the altar, fixed her gaze on the wooden statue of San Costanzo (no longer there) in the sacristy and hoped to see the Saint wink. If the young woman saw a wink, marriage would be within the year.

(I wonder if flickering candles in a dark church might have increased the likelihood of a wink..?)

If the Saint did not wink, the young woman’s fidanzato consoled her with the traditional San Costanzo feast day sweet, the torcolo, (baked by his mother…), the cake’s wreath form symbolizing the crown of flowers placed on the Saint’s body after his decapitation.

Replacing the “winking” wooden statue these days is an elegant scarlet banner bearing the image of the Saint – in the act of blessing and holding the bishop’s crozier and a palm (symbol of martyrdom).

On the vigil of the Feast, the banner is born by the bishop throughout the town in regal pageantry during the night-time procession, la Luminaria

San Costanzo also reigns in his church as central figure in the altarpiece over the altar:

As far as I know, neither of the images wink.

And in any case, the women in San Costanzo on January 29th weren’t there with marriage hopes: they were awaiting the start of the Feast day Mass….

…and outside, a cheery bearded parishioner was ready to offer all a slice of the torcolo after the Mass:

And all that day, perugini lined up at favorite bakeries or pasticcerie (pastry shops) to buy the torcoli:

Around noon, near Perugia’s splendid medieval city hall and 13th-century sculpted wonder, la Fontana Maggiore (“Great Fountain”)….

….. jacketed volunteers had just finished putting out paper trays of torcolo slices on candy-pink table cloths: a feast-day offering of eighteen Perugia bakeries and pasticcerie. Just beyond the booths, people waited patiently behind metal barriers…..

… as local TV cameramen filmed them:

…..and also the bakers and their feast-day cakes…

At one booth, two ebullient women were ready to offer tiny glasses of local vin santo (sweet dessert wine) to accompany the feast-day cakes:

….and when the barriers were open, locals of all ages celebrated their beloved San Costanzo sharing his feast-day treat:

Perugia’s mayor was there and interviewed for regional television and by newspaper journalists……

….and between bites of torcolo, quite a few Perugia citizens asked questions about current political issues….

……while others offered him vin santo:

Before long, forlorn cardboard trays held only sprinkles of torcolo. Many had to console themselves with just crumbs….

….before heading off to the booths at the Fiera di San Costanzo:

Time now for a bit of shopping…. and perhaps a porchetta sandwich lunch….

…or a slice of hot focaccia….

…or a cone of hot chestnuts…

…or crepes with Nutella..

Some tried tastes of Puglia olive varieties:

Dried sausages or pecorino (sheep’s milk cheese) from Norcia tempted other visitors…

…..as did those Norcia salami specialties: of wild boar or deer meat or salami with black truffles…

And I’d never seen a potato chip-making gadget at an outdoor street market:

You can find honeys of all type at the Fiera di San Costanzo….

…… and a woman from Macerata (the Marches region) on the Adriatic coast insisted I try a couple of her many varieties of homemade jams: one of licorice, the other of watermelon. Both…buonissimi.

And you’ll find far more than just tasty foods at a fiera:

And Perugia’s January 29th Fiera di San Costanzo has a booth selling something you won’t see at any other festa-day street market in Italy: torcoli.

Click here for more on San Costanzo and the torcolo – and the recipe
Click here to see the Luminaria procession the night before the Feast of San Costanzo

Read here about Perugia pleasures

Read about a not-to-miss spot in Perugia

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