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San Michele alle Grottelle

The strange procession with which Padula honors its patron saint

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84034 Padula SA, Italia (0m s.l.m.)


The patron saint of Padula is St. Michael the Archangel. He is commemorated, as in many other villages and parishes dedicated to his worship, on the third Sunday in May. When the statue leaves the church for the procession, it is greeted by a parvis adorned with first fruits, especially cherries, to honor her. However, this feast is not the only, nor the oldest dedicated by Padula to its patron saint: a couple of weeks later, on June 9, a second and older procession brings a different statue of St. Michael the Archangel to the hermitage dedicated to him, just outside the town.

The hermitage

The Hermitage of St. Michael Archangel alle Grottelle is located 750 meters above sea level, on the side of Mount St. Sepulchre. A low boundary wall and a gate mark the sacred area. Once you cross the boundary, you are ready to enter the main cave overlooked by several openings, the entrances to the "grottelle," small underground rooms, almost chapels, given the sacred function of this place. This rocky environment is very evocative: the sense of recollection given by the rocky walls and the darkness is amplified by the waters of the small Notarcicco stream that further downstream flows into the Tanagro. Pivotal elements of worship are the altar, the statue of the archangel, elegant and sword drawn, and the wonderful frescoes on the walls, dating from the 14th century, when the Sanseverino family was in Padula.

La processione verso l'eremoThe procession, with musicians and the candle castles

The procession

Imagine then the splendor of the event: it's June 9, an often sunny time of year, with nature in its full bloom. The procession departs from Padula: there are those who carry the statue on their shoulders , those who follow it playing traditional instruments and singing hymns dedicated to the patron saint, those who still hold up castles of candles, a scenic tribute typical of patron saint festivals, and then there are the faithful, who sing to the notes sung by musicians and follow the procession jubilantly, gradually leaving the built-up area to climb the mountain, immersing themselves in the lush nature bathed in light. And then one arrives at one's destination: semi-darkness, lower temperature, the sound of the stream, and the ancient frescoes watching the worshippers and all their offerings... it is like entering another world, as if one had gone to the home of St. Michael the Archangel, and that is when one gathers and can almost feel his presence.

A very ancient cult

After all, this is a very ancient sacred place, dedicated to a pagan deity at the time of ancient Consilium, which stood at the foot of the mountain. The underground cavern was converted to the cult of St. Michael the Archangel by the Byzantines, who maintained their influence here for a long time. And it is to ancient Byzantium that we owe the anomalous date of the festivities: the 9th of June, in fact, derives directly from Emperor Constantine, who had dedicated a shrine in Constantinople to St. Michael on this date. If with the later arrival of the Lombards in most of Italy the feast of St. Michael moved to May (or at the limit to September), here in Padula the old rite has never disappeared, keeping firmly tied to the very ancient tradition of these lands.

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Both the May and June processions are splendid.


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