A tatty hill-village west of Sulmona, Cocullo is neglected by outsiders for 364 days of the year. However, on the first Thursday in May it’s invaded by what seems like half the population of central Italy, coming to celebrate the weird festival of snakes, an annual event held in memory of St Dominic, the patron saint of the village, who allegedly rid the area of venomous snakes back in the eleventh century.
The festival is an odd mixture of the modern and archaic. After Mass in the main square, a number of snake-charmers in the crowd drape a wooden statue of St Dominic with a writhing bunch of live but harmless snakes, which is then paraded through the streets in a bizarre celebration of the saint’s unique powers (he was apparently good at curing snake-bites too). It’s actually thought that Cocullo’s preoccupation with serpents dates back to before the time of the saint when, in the pre-Christian era, local tribes worshipped their goddess Angitia with offerings of snakes.