SAN SEVERO CULTURAL HERITAGE
Ready to start a 53 Km trip that leads to the Mosaico di San Severo, you are right in the heart of the old town centre. This journey travels across trails and places dominated by the presence of the large farms heritage.
But just before embarking towards the fields and the beautiful panoramas, it is important that you will experience the architectural value of San Severo and its folklore with a particular focus on the worships and rituals happening during Holy Week. San Severo history goes back to the Baroque days which is evident in the beauty of the churches and fine palaces but prior to that it is in the XI c that its first urban settlement appears, in fact it was used to be a borgo known as Castellum Santici Severini under the jurisdiction of the Benedictine monastery of San Pietro di Terra Maiore. It is here, right in the heart of San Severo that it is easy to loose track of time for the mesmerizing beauty of the surrounding aristocratic palaces and the sacred buildings, for the picturesque squares and alleys where, at some point, it will be easy to spot the oldest archpriest church of San Severino Abate dated 1059 composed with a main Romanic architrave portal endowed with a rose window with six rays. It is in fact significant to appreciate the Baroque architecture when visiting the parish church of the bishop San Nicola. This church presents an unfinished façade dated 1761 and a main portal dominated by San Nicola coat of arms (crest) carrying his full name. Let’s be reminded that this is an itinerary showing the cultural heritage of San Severo by a visiting also another remarkable church and its artistic value, the Santuario della Madonna del Soccorso, whose façade is embellished with the eighteenth-century tombstones statues of Sant’Agostino and Sant’Isidoro Agricolo.
It is here, in this sacred place where the close connection with the locals has endured times through centuries that, the Madonna del Soccorso, is worshiped through the icon of Mary. According to the tradition the effigy arrived here in 1564 from Sicily thanks to the support of the Augustine monks.
The wooden Madonna Nera is instead of Byzantine origins, restored in 1760 and adorned later in time with a special silky black dress the statue now wears with some sort of private ceremonial few days before the religious celebrations. Another important landmark of this itinerary is the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta built on a pre-existing Roman church known as Santa Maria in Strada turned into cathedral in 1580. As well as counting many paintings of the Neapolitan school remarkable is main altar designed by the engineer Lorenzo Mosca completed by the work of the local marble masters between 1750 and 1754. There is still much more to see in San Severo and in fact walking along the old Via Mercantile now called Via Recca, you will reach the church of the Santissima Trinita’ dei Celestini where it is possible to visit the monastic complex San Lorenzo delle Benedettine whose front of late-southern-Baroque style is dominated by a large multi-leaved window on whose top there is a crest (coat of arms) supported by two cupids. Of major interest is also the church of Santa Maria della Pieta’ nominated national monument and known also as ‘chiesa dei morti’ (church of the dead) to honor the congregation that settled there in 1722. Inside, you will see a main altar dated 1763 showing the miraculous image of the Madonna della Pieta’ in the Sienese school fifteenth-century fresco.
Amongst San Severo heritage there are also some important historical palaces. It is wonderful strolling in the town centre savoring this all along through the beauty of the effigies, the different crests and the large portals of the buildings while imagining the liveliness of the aristocrats and of the middle class who were living here at the time. Prominent are Palazzo Fraccacreta, Palazzo Trotta-de-Lucretiis, Palazzo De Pretis, Palazzo Curtotti buildings that were all built in the XVIII c and that fully embellish Via Angelo Fraccacreta.
If the time of your visit is in May, it will be impossible for you to miss the celebrative worship activities in honor of the Madonna del Soccorso.
The celebrations are quite long and fairly articulate as the Madonna Nera is highly worshiped by the locals. Every 3rd Sunday in May it is when she is celebrated starting from last Saturday prior to the Sunday when the statue of the Madonna is paraded up to Incoronazione square where an open air mass is hold in her honor. On the Sunday, in the morning, the image of the Madonna, together with the four angels and the compatriots the abbot San Severino and the bishop San Severo parade through the city reaching back the cathedral by the afternoon with a massive following of worshipers, civilian, military and religious congregations. This is when the maximum expression of the typical folklore of San Severo becomes alive. The pace of the procession, its sequencing is beaten by the explosive sound of the most suggestive drum like pyrotechnical artistry of Puglia. These ‘fire works’, are meticulously and traditionally prepared by the locals for the special occasion. Since 2004 this artistry of exploding the pyrotechnics in a drumming like mode has now become part of the “Palio delle Batterie”. It accompanies also the impressive run of the ‘fujenti’ (furious, enraged). It is all about lights, colors and pyrotechnics. An uninterrupted sequence of explosions and fire works that shake the whole atmosphere. People usually try to follow, go along with them, anticipating the explosions as they come. The show is opened by the playful ‘rotelle’ (small wheels) isolated games of lightings and colors. The ‘batteria’, a drum-like explosion is up next. It is composed by a long fuse that while burning allows the explosives to pop in a rhythmical order, spaced out by ‘bengala’ (bengals), firecrackers, fountains all following a rhythmical pattern that at times slower, at times faster, much faster with a crescendo that follows up all the way to the end of this so called fire session, into the ‘finale’ or ‘scappata’ (fugue) when it becomes more and more intense up to the very last louder bang. This is something worth experiencing beginning to the end. This is a major event that gets everybody involved and usually generates a lot of attention on an international level (press).
There are other interesting cultural elements that constitute the patrimony of San Severo in fact let’s not forget the importance of the religious celebrations linked to Holy Week which manifests here probably in the most emotionally suggestive way of the entire Tavoliere. This is because here the fusion between the old popular traditions and the intense religiousness of the locals is very evident. Holy Week starts on Holy Thursday with the task of the ‘lavanda dei piedi’ (foothbath) during the celebrations of the Coena Domini. At the end of the mass all sacred places the thrones of glory get prepared to receive the visit of the worshipers who will visit the numerous churches of the town. Back in the day people were used to carry bells to mark their mourning for Jesus Christ’s death. At dawn on Holy Friday, three processions traverse the old town. The Madonna dell’Addolorata image dressed in black drapes wears a silver crown on her head but also a sword dug into her chest. The image, carried on the shoulders by the Arciconfraternita dell’Orazione e Morte (confraternity of prayer and death) travels from Chiesa della Pieta’ towards the square of the Castello. At the same time the image of Christ flogged, Ecce Homo, covered in a white sai and a cowl on his head departs the church of the Celestine carried on shoulders by the Arciconfraternita del Rosaio heading also towards the square of the Castello. The Arciconfraternita del Soccorso (confraternity of the rescued) travels instead from the Chiesa di Sant’Agostino (Saint Augustine’s church) and bringing a wooden black cross that is carried bare feet by the penitent ‘Cireneo’ wearing a white sai with a cowl covering his face. The penitent’s identity is usually unknown to everybody apart from, the rector of the Santuario del Soccorso who is the only one knowing his name. As you can see, these three elements faith, mystery and rituals starting from different directions all converge on the square of the Castello. The atmosphere is quite emotional, soaked with deep feelings and spirituality of the meeting between the image the Addolorata and that one of the Flog Christ running towards each other while the cross attempts to stop them by rising strong between the two. Amongst the Beni di Salvatore (heritage of Salvatore) together with the baroque architecture, old churches and religious rituals there is the remarkable presence of the rebellious, free, imaginary, controversial voice of cartoonist the Andrea Pazienza who was brought up here until the age of twelve years old. In 1968 he moved to Pescara to study but his deep connection with the city of the Alto Tavoliere remains uncontaminated in fact Andrea was used to come back regularly to San Severo where he would still meets his old time friends, his native home land with whom he would be sharing his wit while leaving traces of his presence as he went along. Pazienza is the creator of characters like Zanardi, Penthotal and Pompeo and, I am sure you will agree that Andrea Pazienza is one of the main Italian fiction writer cartoonist of our times.With his works he described the moods, the tastes and language of an entire decade of the Italian history. He died young, at the age of thirty-two years old leaving behind an entire collection of drawings, cartoons and illustrations whose characters are still very much alive as if you could still see them running in pain on the roads of San Severo.
It is nonetheless enjoyable walking these roads to discover and taste the wines and meet the winegrowers’ of the Daunia producers of the D.O.C. wines. This is a land of very strong gastronomic traditions, vineyards and wine productions. San Severo is in fact one of the oldest and most famous oenological traditional place in the area. It is where the majority of the wine growers’ make the best wines using old traditional methods. It is for this reason that visiting the wine growers’ is particularly fascinating as it takes the traveler into unknown hidden underground routes of the city. The city of San Severo was founded by Diomede, named “Castrum Dionis” from which the term D.O.C. derives. At this point, after tasting a few fine wines and having familiarized with the many sunburst routes enclosing the urban area San Severo it is time to continue travelling exploring the cultural heritage of San Severo and so fully appreciate the mosaic of San Severo as it is mapped by tidy olive trees, very big vineyards, vast farmlands and sporadic orchards. It is now easy to spot the vegetable farms on the edges of the city being these the living reminder of the distinction between the countryside and the city, that border where usually people would travel to by foot or with pack animals. This is an area of deep countryside, far away from the urban centre, a shelter for those agriculture workers who had been citizens once. It is a very fruitful land, rich with vegetables, orchards and vineyards that speak of the Gente di Terra (people of the earth), of their work and hardship. Following along with this itinerary, will also bring to your attention large armhouse and small rural villages that were only seasonally inhabited like for instance Masseria Florio, Masseria Ratino, Masseria Santa Giusta and Madonna dell’Oliveto. This is a place of an intricate rural texture that speaks about history as it follows the steps of man’s quest facing his human journey with tenacity and strength. That one of the Gente di Terra who lived in these lands marking with their identity the whole of the Alto Tavoliere.