Thousands of people gather together in the heart of Matera; in bundles they wait, for the secret float to appear from its hidings to reveal its elegant colours and impeccable detail, whilst carrying the statue of Maria Santissima della Bruna- the Patron Saint of Matera.
This vibrant, loud and regal festival is spectacular for all to witness, and magical to be a part of.
The festival of the Madonna della Bruna is steeped in religious significance, annually the 2nd July is the appointed festival date as determined by Pope Urban VI in 1389. Its story tells of a peasant who agreed to take a mysterious woman to Matera, however, when they arrived she had vanished from the traino, leaving only a statue and a letter addressed to the Bishop behind, revealing she was the Virgin Mary. The statue was welcomed into Matera and was carried three times around the Piazza del Duomo.
From this, the festival now remains and it is one of the most amazing times of the year to be in Matera. At dawn, the streets are lined with people, preparing for the revealing of the Madonna’s float: this is made from papier-mâché which is designed by a local artist and kept secret until the day. This float is what carries the Madonna statue and is a beautiful work of art. It travels around the bustling streets of Matera and into Cathedral Square, led by the Knights of Santa Maria, who are dressed in royal garments and seated on gallant horses, whilst musicians muddle within the procession to create a harmony of music, laughter, shouts and celebration.
The crowd follows as the float reaches Cathedral Square and performs three turns, which symbolises the taking of the city by the Patron Saint.
Late in the evening, the float is pulled at speed down the hill towards the townsfolk, the crowd charges towards it in the hope that through the shoving and weaving, they will reach the float and grab a piece of the papier-mâché, it is ripped to shreds- leaving only its skeleton behind. For the townsfolk, a piece of the float is believed to be a sign of good fortune and blessing for the year ahead - a must have memento of the magnificent feast, but beware obtaining the treasure, it is not for the faint hearted!
The festival does not end there; spectacular fireworks are then displayed at midnight.
Bursts of light and sound are released over The Sassi’s ravine to powerful, classical, Italian music that sends goose-bumps up through your spine.
The slopes of the cave districts are filled with the crowd as young and old hurry through the narrow passages of the Sassi to vantage points to capture the view. Tourists are outnumbering the townsfolk that return back to their ancestral land to celebrate this remarkable place year after year.
The Madonna della Bruna festival is a colourful and patriotic day that celebrates tradition in Matera and, if like me, you love to really feel the passion and cultural heritage of a place whilst travelling, this is definitely a festival I would recommend and look forward to with eagerness. It is the harmony of culture and religion, sound and light, and colour and passion, that is so unique to Southern Italy.
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