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The folklore festival known as farchie is held each year in Fara Filiorum Petri, a communal capital of about two thousand people located in the Province of Chieti in Italy's central Abruzzo region. The farchie ritual has its roots in the 1799 French invasion of Abruzzo. During this time the French forces had surrounded the town of Fara. Miraculously, Saint Anthony of Abate is said to have appeared and as he did the oak trees surrounding Fara burst into roaring flames. Seeing this, the French soldiers fled Fara thus sparing the town from certain destruction and ruin. In another version of this story the Saint appeared as a general and sent word to the French troops who were very near Fara on their way from Bucchianico towards Guardiagrele. Saint Anthony forbade the French from attacking Fara but they did not heed him and as they approached the nearby oak trees burst into flames thereby engulfing the hapless attacking forces. The first written records documenting the farchie date back to the year 1890.
The farchie celebration likely has pagan roots with fire as the main symbolic feature. The burning of the farchie likely served as a form of purification, a protection from evil, and as a talisman of hope that abundant sunshine would lead to abundant crops in the coming warmer months that lie ahead. Historians trace the religious songs that accompany the farchie back to the late renaissance period in Spain during which plays and dramas were enacted portraying the adventures of Saint Anthony Abate in the desert.
Calendar of events
February "Contradaioli" (members of one specific Fara neighborhood) begin collecting the materials that will later be used to make the farchie. Green, indigenous canes are harvested and stored for the celebration to be held eleven months hence. Between 15-20 of these canes are bound into a large bundle and place in a dry storage area. The bundles are guarded with some care in that individuals from villages that do not have stands of cane have been known to surreptitiously come to Fara in an attempt to make away with this valuable bounty. In recent years local teens have attempted to carry out pranks involving the stored cane. None to date have been successful. The preparation of the actual farchie entails a great deal of effort and is carried out in a very precise and orderly manner.
mid December The contradaioli cut and gather the larger limbs of the purple osier trees. Care is taken to choose limbs that are green and fresh as those without the right amount of humidity tend to break open during the burning process.
12 January "Contradaioli", that is residents of each of the Fara neighborhoods (Colli, Madonna, Mandrone, Forma, Vicenne, Fara Centro, Crepacci, Campo Lungo, Colle Anzolino, Via S.Antonio or Colle San Donato, Sant'Eufemia, Giardino and Pagnotto) begins the construction of its own farchie. Two or three of the most skilled farchie craftsmen spend the better part of several days working together on this task. The first phase begins with attaching pieces of cane to a large tree trunk or, in some neighborhoods, to a fascia of canes that have been tightly woven together and take the place of the trunk. From this point on additional pieces of cane are bound to the ever growing farchie. The manner in which the farchie are constructed has a great deal to do with their beauty as well as with the manner in which they burn. Care is taken such that the farchie burn in a unified manner from the “piticone” (bottom of the farchie) to the “cima” or "fiocco" (the head or top of the farchie that is set on fire.
The completed farchie are approximately twenty five feet in length and three feet in diameter. The farchie are constructed to very specific standards. Very important aspects of the farchie include their vertical alignment, the manner in which they are bound, and the correct placement of the canes so as to avoid expansions and twisting motions. Master farchie craftsmen take much pride in adhering to these standards as well as to constructing the farchie to extremely exact measurements. A committee of townspeople provides the funds and the organization necessary to make the farchie festival a success. The construction of the farchie is often carried out over the years by members of the same families. 13 January Local teenagers scour the countryside playing pranks and socializing. In past times these outings were made to gather additional materials for the construction of the farchie. In more recent years the emphasis has been less on foraging and more on celebrating the celebration that is only a few days away.
mid January While the men prepare the farchie the women of the town put themselves to the task of preparing large feasts for all to enjoy. About 500 "rosette" (bread rolls having stamped with a rose bud design) are baked.The "Pasto di Sant'Andone" (Meal of Saint Anthony) is accompanied by large quantities of the local produced wine.
16 January The day of the main procession. Around noon members of each neighborhood received conduct a brief liturgical service. In the early afternoon of the farchie are brought from neighborhoods all over Fara to the center town piazza located near the church of Saint Anthony Abate. Some are secured to decorated tractors, others are carried on the shoulders of the enthusiastic contradaioli. Tambourine players lead the procession. Straddling the farchie is a contradaioli (known as the "trevucette") playing a horned instrument. Additional traditional hymns and dirges are chanted by the numerous people who make up each procession. Having arrived at the church the contradaioli manually drop the farchie into a previously dug hole thus placing it in an upright position. Given the great weight and dimensions of farchie this process has in the past been of some danger, this reduced in recent years by communally imposed size limitations. The contradaioli responsible for the mounting of the farchie is the "capofarchia" (that is, commander of the farchie). Shortly after all or the farchie have individually arrived from their perspective neighborhoods, the main ceremony begins. As the sun sets the farchie are set ablaze and fireworks light up the sky above. Members of the various contradaioli laud praise on their own masterpiece while heatedly denouncing the slightest imperfection they perceive in the farchie of others. After the farchie have been set ablaze the people of Fara begin their festivities. Traditional songs are sung and greatly quantities of food, sweets, and wine are consumed. The statue of Saint Anthony d'Abate is carried on the shoulder of townsmen to the burning farchie where a blessing takes place. As evening approaches the neighbor groups knock over their respective farchie, cut off the burned sections, and then carry the farchie back to their neighborhoods where they are again set on fire. In past times the farchie lighting took place in the town's main piazza. The embers from the farchie were known to damage the doors and windows of nearby homeowners and for this reason this portion of the celebration now takes place on the banks of the Foro river.
17 January A solemn observance is held in front of the RC church dedicated to Saint Anthony of Abate. During a sacred mass the spent farchie, domestic animals, and bread of Saint Anthony are blessed. The rosette rolls are distributed to the townspeople who share them with their livestock and pet so as to ward off illness in the coming year. Traditional foods are served during the farchie celebration. These include crespelle, cauciune, and serpentone. The activities take on a carnival atmosphere. It is thought that the farchie celebration has pagan origins the fire representing the purification of the earth and keeping evil spirits at a distance.