While in many parts of Italy August 15 is strongly linked to the Marian cult, the town of Auletta, on that very day, is engaged in another feast, very important for the town's spirituality.
The Septenary: prelude to the feast.
The feast day, so deeply felt in the village that it comes to the fore even compared to the Assumption of the Virgin, is the patronal feast dedicated to St. Donatus, or Donatello, as he is often called to distinguish him from St. Donatus of Arezzo. The day dedicated to St. Donatus is August 17, but celebrations begin well in advance to prepare little by little for the festive atmosphere. In fact, it starts with the Septenary: seven days during which the approach of the feast is counted by shooting some fireworks every morning. As if to say: get ready, there is very little time left now! Since the beginning of the Septenary on the streets of Auletta we see many more people than usual: many emigrants are returning home to celebrate with their families. Perhaps this is also why the festivities in honor of St. Donatus are a particularly auspicious time for the centa, or offerings of the faithful, which consist of money, oil or grain...
Early in the morningon August 17, we enter the climax of the celebrations: it is at this time that the relic of St. Donatus, as well as a silver bust of him, are carried in solemn procession. The bust, depicting the saint in ecstasy, is an artifact from 1723 donated by the marquise of Caggiano in thanksgiving for her grandson's recovery. Decorated for the occasion with flowers and palm leaves, during the patronal feast it is carried in procession through the streets of the town, followed by the faithful, many of them barefoot, and the town band. The bust, however, is not alone in its journey: on this day the relic kept in the church of St. Nicholas in Auletta also parades through the streets. The reliquary is in the form of a raised arm, since it is precisely this part of the body. Finally, on August 18 the festivities close with another procession starting from the Mother Church of St. Nicholas of Myra and ending at the church of San Donato, accompanied by fireworks.
San Donato da Ripacandida
Donato Simone da Ripacandida was born to a humble family in 1179. He began to follow his vocation at the age of fourteen, moving to the Benedictine monastery of Sant'Onofrio di Massadiruta, in Petina, near Salerno, but was told he was too young, and to report the following year to the abbey of Montevergine. In 1195 he returned to Petina, to the monastery of St. Onofrio. This very place, the same place where the saint expired on August 17, 1198, at the age of only 19, is still visible in the form of striking ruins.
Donatus was attached to water: he had chosen for himself a particular form of penance. At night, when the brethren were asleep, he would descend into the cave carved by a stream just below the monastery, and bathe in the cold waters. Once, the abbot, unaware of anything, followed him and, seeing his clothes abandoned outside the cave, thought of impure acts and decided to punish him by stealing his robes. He had to change his mind, however, when the same day he saw him return from the cave fully dressed: the clothes had reappeared where Donatus had left them!
His fame spread to neighboring towns as well, and many people from Auletta sought his advice. It even seems that once it was the saint himself who removed his right forearm in response to the cries of the people of Auletta. This would be the origin of the relic, which has remained intact for centuries, preserved in the silver reliquary from 1618 and venerated in Auletta in the Mother Church. A curiosity: people happened to have had the opportunity to directly touch the relic of St. Donatus' arm. All of them tell of having had a sensational experience: when the reliquary is opened, an unfamiliar and intense fragrance is released that seems to come from another world and is so enthralling that, even if there are other people around, one forgets about them, and remains face to face with the saint.
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