Terni, the “Love City” of Umbria
Just after Valentine’s Day, over one hundred engaged couples – each woman holding a rose – celebrated their love in a church linked to Valentines, the Basilica di San Valentino, where the patron saint of Terni is buried.
A pair of linked hearts in front of the 17th-c church were frames for couple-photos during the days following February 14th, feast of San Valentino.
Patron saint of Terni, the bishop Valentino was martyred in the 3rd century. Legend recounts that Terni’s bishop is linked to “the day of love,” Valentine’s Day, for his courage uniting in marriage a soldier of the Roman legion (pagan) with a young Christian. Many an image of the Saint depicts him blessing the young couple as the young legionnaire presents a red rose to his love:
At the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasio I wished to christianize the Lupercalia, the ancient pagan rites on February 15th dedicated to Fauno, god of fertility. The pagan cult was abolished and the Pope initiated a new feast, celebrating love between young persons intending to marry and procreate, dedicated to San Valentino born February 14, 176 A.D. in Terni.
Inside the Basilica di San Valentino, the altar over the Saint’s tomb was decorated with a hand-embroidered cardinal-red cloth and flaming red anthurium bordered the base.
Ternani – and visitors from other areas – paused before the Saint in prayer:
On February 15th, the altar area became a stage as episodes of the life and martyrdom of San Valentino were re-enacted:
An array of celebratory events in honor of the Saint animated the town of Terni from February 13th to 16th. For all three days, visitors wandered the wooden booths of the fiera (an outdoor market linked to a saint”s feast) encircling Piazza Europa.
All the goodness of Umbria was on stage and vendors at the booths – many touched up with red hearts – offered tastes of their products, with pride.
You could sip wines…
….or an artisanal beer..
…or try honeys of all sorts (how delicious was the ivy one!)..
….taste savory cheeses made with saffron, wild fennel, red onion or shaved black truffle…
…..or tidbits of salami, coppa, dried sausages or prosciutto….
There were even gluten-free heart-shaped sweets…
We too roamed the booths pausing at the one selling Sicilian goodness, logicamente, so that Pino could taste again the flavor of home, an arancina.
At an adjoining booth, two young women, Tamara and Stefania, offered tastes of Sicilian chocolates.
Pino wanted to buy a few chocolate-covered orange peels and Tamara showed us a new variation on citrus fruit goodness: chocolate-covered lemon peels. The small bag we bought had both:
Not far from the fiera, we stopped in at a caffetteria for an aperitivo. A curiosity at the entrance: shiny red Valentines dangled over a white pseudo-piano, the piano lid shaped like a Valentine.
We found out why inside: a jazz concert would be held there that evening, another event in the rich program of the three-day festival, Terre di San Valentino (“the lands of San Valentino”).
A marathon, poetry-reading, an array of children’s events, other musical events, guided visits to the Terni museums, cooking shows, cooking lessons, chocolate-tastings and guided wine-tastings animated Terni (re-baptized “Love City”) for the festival.
And at this caffetteria, tables were being prepared for a “Wine-lovers’ Aperitivo”:
Here as in cafes all over “Love City,” flashes of red on heart-shaped sweets awaited customers in the refrigerators and display cases:
And in Terni, too – as in any Umbria festival – the drummers’ furious beat and blaring trumpets announced the afternoon festivities. Banner-wavers followed the band, all in medieval dress, each clearly proud to represent their “Love City.”
….and a joy to see young women, too, joining the ranks of both the drummers and banner-wavers:
Saints celebrated, the sharing of foods and wines, interaction with others, music, and historical representations are often the ingredients for a festival in Italy.
In Terni, too.
Click here to read about Terni’s hopes for a U.S. “sister city”
Read more here about Terni
Read more here about Terni’s “sister city” search