August 5th in Episcopia

A procession to the heart of an Italian village.

By Ephemera documentary

Angelo Chiacchio

Detail of sciglio from Episcopia (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The local culture of the Italian countryside, often referred to as “internal Italy,” takes its inspiration from agricultural life. In rural villages far removed from the major historical cities of “central Italy,” religious belief and myth converge in time-honored traditions.” As younger generations move away to urban centers, they leave these traditions behind.






Aerial view of Episcopia by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Episcopia, a small village sitting on a hill in Basilicata, holds an annual celebration in honor of Santa Maria del Piano every August 5th.

Mt Pollino to Episcopia by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Aerial view of Episcopia (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Born as an 8th century Byzantine stronghold, Episcopia developed as a small town and eventually flourished in the 16th century. Fewer than 1,500 people live there today.

Local man preparing traditional "scigli" by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

On a warm summer day, Mimmo builds a sciglio from wood and bouquets of wheat for the upcoming celebration.

Pacchiano wearing a icon of Santa Maria del Piano by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

For every episcopiota like Mimmo, August 5th is the most important day of the year. 

Monastery of Santa Maria del Piano by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The annual celebration traces its roots to a group of harvesters who found a statue of the Virgin Mary in a hollow tree near the ancient monastery of Santa Maria.

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3D scan of Monastery of Santa Maria del Piano (21th Century) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The monastery is recognized as one of Italy’s 50 national monuments that need to be protected. Despite the monastery’s special status, only its sanctuary has been fully restored.

Sanctuary of Santa Maria del Piano (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Today, the faithful can worship the statue of Santa Maria del Piano in its original home.

Great Flood fresco by Todisco da AbriolaEphemera documentary

The sanctuary was built by Italo-Greek monks in the 10th century. It houses many precious paintings such as this fresco, believed to be the work of Todisco da Abriola.

Traditional wheat shower of the statue of Santa Madonna del Piano by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The statue of Santa Maria leaves the monastery under a shower of wheat. The procession to the village has begun. 

Men carrying the sacred statue of SS Maria del Piano by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Local hymn to Mary
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The baroque statue is carried for three kilometers.  Traditional hymns are sung in the hope that Madonna del Piano will provide a prosperous harvest. 

Scigli accompanying Santa Maria by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Pairs of men in front of the statue carry a sciglio. Every hamlet makes its own sciglio.

Woman carrying gregna by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Women carry a lighter version of the sciglio called gregna.

Pacchino during August 5th celebrations in Episcopia by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Men and women dressed as pacchiani appear at the front of the procession.  They perform a traditional pruning knife dance. It is said that when the harvesters found the statue, they danced frenetically.

Tradional August 5th dance in Piazza Arcieri, Episcopia (2019) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Everyone dances together as the procession arrives in the village. 

Boys playing tarantella in Arcieri Square by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The youth of Episcopia have begun to rediscover the importance of this annual celebration, giving August 5th a renewed relevance. 

Old pacchiano celebrating August 5th by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Conclusion

August 5th has always been central to the lives of the people in Episcopia, as has their devotion to Madonna del Piano. In order for this tradition to be preserved, younger generations must carry this incredible heritage forward. 

Terra by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Partnership by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

This story was created with the support of Art Works for Change, a nonprofit organization that creates contemporary art exhibitions and storytelling projects to address critical social and environmental issues.

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To learn more about life in Episcopia, see also the story about "Pig culture in Basilicata" →

Credits: Story

Written, shot and produced by: Angelo Chiacchio
Copy editing: Al Grumet, Rajesh Fotedar

With the support of: Google Arts & Culture; Art Works for Change

Thanks to: Comune di Episcopia, Mimmo Navarra, Alessandro Germano, Egidio Sarubbi, Alberto Maria Viceconte and all of the people of Episcopia.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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