Festa de Noantri is a beautiful folk festival which has deep religious undertones. It has a fascinating legend attached to it. This festival is about parading a statue of Mother Mary along the numerous streets of Trastevere, a district across the River Tiber and an 8-day festival thereafter.
It is said that a statue of the Madonna was fished out of river Tiber by some fisher men after a severe storm. This statue was made of cedar wood. They called it Madonna della Fiumarola because she was retrieved from the river. The fishermen presented it to the Carmelite priests who changed the name of the statue to Madonna del Carmine. They installed her in San Crisogono in Piazza Sonnino. She had appeared after a destructive storm and was considered to be the protector of Trastevere and its population because the district tends to be extremely windy and hence dangerous.
Afterwards the statue was transferred to the church of Saint Agatha across the street. Every July on the 1st Saturday after the 16th the statue of the Madonna will be returned to her original position in San Crisogono. But before installing her in the church for the 8-day festival known as Festa de Noantri, she will be paraded through many streets of the district with great jubilation and celebration.
The origin of the name of the festival is also very interesting. The people of Trastevere were not given the due respect by the people on the opposite side of the Tiber. The trastiverini were referred to as ‘the others’ by them. Since it is the special festival of Trastevere the citizens of Trastevere called it a festival of ‘us others’ or noi altri. It later transformed in to ‘noantri’, hence the festival is now referred to as Festa de Noantri.
The procession carries a giant statue of the Madonna by ten men on their shoulders. The procession is led by the local bishop in his ceremonial dress. The grand parade will include many priests, the believers in their finery, bands and other festivities. The statue that is carried in the procession is not the original one’. Considering the antiquity of the statue and its religious and cultural importance, it is never moved from San Agatha. Instead, another 19th century polychrome wooden statue duly decorated for the occasion is carried around. Every year the attire of the statue is changed. The believers often come to burn candles in front of the Madonna.
Many street shows and food festivals are often organized as a part of this festival. People eat and drink and enjoy themselves greatly throughout these eight days. Traditional Italian music concerts are put up along the streets. The people walk and run about shouting ‘Evviva Maria’. It is an occasion of general enjoyment for the trastiverini.
One of the main attractions of the festival is the march of the bersaglieri. This is a part of ancient Italian army and they march at an incredibly fast pace playing their trumpets while they run. Their hats are world famous. It is a wide rimmed black hat decorated on the side with an enormous bunch of black feathers. It is a spectacular sight, when they run with synchronizing steps with the feathers moving in rhythm with their pace.
At the end of the festival people will gather along the banks of the Tiber to see the venerated figure of the Madonna float in a boat from Ponte San Agatha to Ponte Garibaldi at sunset. It is a suitably solemn end for an 8-day noisy festival. The Festa de Noantri is invariably attached to the culture of the small unassuming district which lies permanently in the wind’s path. Their tribute to their protector Mother is touching.
by Marina Chernyak
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