By Jori Diego Cherubini
Winter returns, the Saviour is born and it’s Christmastime. And on December 24th, as every year, the torches of Abbadia San Salvatore return. This millenial tradition, renewed through the ancient rite of fire, consists in lighting the ‘torches’ (actually very tall bonfires of wood) to chase away the darkness of a difficult period and welcome in the light of the new year. After 2020, when only a single symbolic torch was built, it is finally possible to meet again in the streets and share the most beautiful time of the year with the songs of the Pastorelle, sausages and mulled wine. We talked about it with Fabrizio Tondi, mayor of Abbadia San Salvatore and one of the greatest connoisseurs of this festa.
Let’s start it up again? “Yup. Last year was a solemn moment, similar, in some ways, to the image of the Pope during the Via Crucis, alone and in the silence of prayer, but this year we can speak of a reboot; as Don Francesco (the parish priest of the town) recalls, the torches have always been lit, even during wartime: it is the strength of a tradition that overcomes any obstacle.”
There is an implicit sentiment in the rite of the torches: “it is the desire that everyone has in their hearts, when an annual cycle closes, which has progressively gone into darkness, and the light that leads to a new year opens; after the liturgical period of Advent with the image in mind of the Holy Child who brings new life. In this, the fire ritual with the lighting of the torches is the maximum that the human mind can imagine, and gives a very great foundation to the tradition.”
One of the most evocative points from which to admire the torches is the ancient abbey of San Salvatore: “it is a door to infinity ̶ observes Tondi ̶ which dominates human understanding; the flame, single but tripartite, appeared on the top of a fir-tree, and centuries later continued to emanate light and heat (according to the legend of the Lombard King Ratchis who, during a journey to Rome, stopped for a hunting trip in the woods of the Amiata and during his stay the Lord appeared to him in the branches of a tree, ed.).”
The torches have been renewed from a technical point of view. If before they were built roughly, today they take on a precise and increasingly tall and geometric shape: “… it is the desire for height, which brings us closer to the divine… As boys we went asking families for pieces of wood, sawn by hand and chopped with the ax it was hard work, today it is easier, thanks to chainsaws and the fact that part of the wood is made available by Macchia Faggeta and the Unione dei Comuni.” The sense ̶ a profound one ̶ of belonging on the part of the youngest, viscerally transmitted within the family, is not a little surprising. In Abbadia San Salvatore, in the month preceding the lighting of the torches, small communities of children are formed, but not only children, intent on doing something that is appreciated by all.”
Over the years the tradition has evolved through its own rituals. The lighting ceremony (also visible in streaming) attended by thousands of tourists, takes place in front of the highest civil and religious authorities, a priceless and unique moment, followed by a procession that winds through the streets of the town.
The long fascination with the torches could only become culture. Books and films. Like the recent Figli del fuoco [Sons of Fire] (visible on YouTube): “It perfectly conveys the sense of celebration ̶ observes the mayor ̶ and gives this tradition a foundation plinth,” then there is Sacro Fuoco, the photo volume by Stefano Visconti and Flavia Veronesi (Società Editrice Fiorentina).
“Whoever goes to the ‘Torches’ once ̶ Tondi tells me ̶ tends to come back and this is demonstrated by the incredible resonance the ceremony has had in recent years. Because ̶ he concludes ̶ the torch means both a hope and a desire to share, to be together, even in cold and discomfort, feelings well known by those who have grown up in the mountains.”
Info: Pro Loco Abbadia San Salvatore / Tel. 0577 770361