In the Ronzano countryside, near the Mavone river, the cult of St Mary of the Assumption is celebrated in the homonymous Benedictine abbey. Miraculous narratives link the veneration of the Virgin to the place, and to the adoration of the relic of the True Cross, found in the neighbouring fields by a peasant and his ploughing oxen . On the day of the Assumption of Mary, the children are taken to the church to receive special protection from the Cross, while the square in front is filled with animals, rides and stalls for the ancient fair of livestock and local agricultural products.
“One thing that happened only here was the consecration of children. The children were consecrated with the Holy Cross in the church on the 15th August of each year, . The children from all of the municipalities of the whole area were consecrated”.
Carlo Pierannunzio, January 24, 2013
In St Mary’s church in Ronzano there is a reliquary cross,called a stauroteca, made of wood and covered with gold foil decorated with filigree and gems, which dates from the period between the 12th and the 14th-15th centuries. The various parts, from the double wooden cross to the refined decorative coating, were made in several stages, as was the sturdy display case in which the cross is still kept. According to local tradition, the reliquary cross contains a fragment of the True Cross and was found by a farmer ploughing the surrounding land, with his oxen, giving life to the veneration of the Holy Cross in the nearby abbey: an origin myth corresponding to a widespread model that sees cattle as the omnipresent protagonists of mediation with the extra-human in a broad Mediterranean-European Christian-Catholic context.
The miraculous animal intercession, placed at the origins of the cult and of the presence on site of the wooden fragment, identified as part of the Cross of Jesus on Golgotha, is linked to a further legendary element in a story told by the old people in the town, according to which St Helena The Empress, came to St Mary’s Abbey in Ronzano and personally donated the relic, which was then lost and later found in the countryside by kneeling oxen. The saint, Constantine’s mother, converted to Christianity at an early age and was the protagonist of the discovery of the True Cross in Jerusalem in 326 and 328, of which she carried a portion with her to the West, according to reports from many sources, giving rise to the consequent scattering of fragments all over Christendom.
In Ronzano the ancient cult is particularly observed on the day of the Assumption, when the Holy Cross is used for the blessing of children with a protective function during mass on the afternoon of 15th August. In the past, the exposition of the relic, accompanied by the sign of the cross and kiss of the reliquary, was used to consecrate and protect all the children born in the last year; now it is extended to children of different ages. The ritual use of the cross is also explained by the workmanship of the reliquary, enriched by apotropaic formulas of probable magical character affixed to the red carnelian stone embedded in the decoration.
In fact, the fair that has taken place for hundreds of years in the extensive grounds in front of the Benedictine abbey and which used to be of great importance to the whole valley, both socially and commercially, is principally dedicated to cattle.
WATCH THE VIDEO
A moment of the blessing of the children, with the relic of the True Cross.
Ronzano di Castel Castagna (TE), 15 August 2018.
Filming by Stephen Saverioni,
Don Nicola Jobbi Study Centre Archive /Bambun.
Transmission and conservation
The feast of St Mary of the Assumption is organized by the local parish and the fair by the Municipality of Castel Castagna, along with professionals of the veterinary sector and with the participation of many local farms. While the religious celebration has been deeply affected by cultural change and by the decrease in the population which has occurred in the last few decades, impacting negatively on the performance of the rite of blessing and the widespread participation of children often seen in the past, the fair, on the other hand, is becoming ever more successful. At the heart of a campaign for the promotion of the breeds of cattle and the agricultural and food products of the territory, every year it attracts the attention of thousands of visitors and users, confirming its position as one of the longest-running and most popular fairs in the north of the Abruzzo region. Although it is inserted in a socio-economic framework which has changed significantly, in which the very function of bovine animals in the agricultural world appears to have radically and irrevocably changed, the initiative still provides a link between breeders, experts and the public, supporting economic exchange and a network of social relations, along with recognition and morphological evaluation of the livestock presented.