Friday, December 7, 2012

Stresa Travel Notes: Sant'Ambrogio Patron Saint Day

What with trade fairs and a trip back to the UK, it has been ages since I wrote a post. As today is our Patron Saint Day I thought it was an ideal occasion to get back to it. Whilst dinner bubbles away on the stove so I'm settled on the sofa and ready to tell you all about Stresa's Patron Saint Day.

Mosaic at the Sant'Ambrogio Basilica in Milan
Sant'Ambrogio (Saint Ambrose) is our Patron Saint and we share him with Milan, where he was bishop between 374 and his death in 397. He had never been baptised so in the space of a week he was baptised and ordained!

Sant'Ambrogio is also the Patron Saint of bees and beekeepers. Legend has it that when he was a baby a swarm of bees landed on his mouth whilst he was laying in his cradle, flying in and out of his mouth. When the swarm flew away they left a drop of honey. His father saw this and exclaimed "If my son survives this, he will be a great man!". You will often see bees or beehives in depictions of Sant'Ambrogio. One year we organised guides and excursions for a group of German beekeepers who came on holiday to Stresa because of Sant'Ambrogio. They visited local beekeepers and the Sant'Ambrogio Basilica in Milan.

Sant'Ambrogio's feast day is the 7th December and that is a public holiday for us in Stresa. It falls the day before the Feast of the Immaculate Conception so we get two holidays, on two consecutive days!

Stresa Parish Church Sant'Ambrogio Statue
So how do we celebrate our special Feast Day in Stresa? Being a religious festival, there is mass at 10.30 and this year we have started, what will hopefully prove to be, a new tradition. Priest Don Gianluca, has recently arrived in Stresa and today he organised a procession with the statue of Sant'Ambrogio in the town centre. After mass, the statue was carried out of the church and taken on a short procession along Via Cavour to the town hall and back to the church. The statue was preceded by the Don Gianluca, the priest of Carciano, Don Stefano and representatives from Stresa Rosminian College. It was followed by the mayor, Canio Di Milia, other local dignitaries and the congregation.

The procession in the centre of Stresa

The Sant'Ambrogio Procession
I really enjoy seeing these kinds of processions. Luca and I first saw one in Palermo on the 8th December for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and it lasted all day. Whilst Stresa's is on a much smaller scale, it is a great new tradition for our Patron Saint Day. We caught the procession just as it was leaving the church and also took the opportunity to see the inside of the church with all the lights on! The church is often quite dark inside and it is only when it is fully illuminated that you can see its real beauty.

Stresa Parish Church
An old tradition is that of the bonfire on the beach. All over Italy bonfires are lit to celebrate Saint's Feast Days and Stresa is no exception. Ours is held on the beach on the lakefront opposite the Hotel Astoria. The local volunteer fire brigade are there to light the bonfire and make sure it stays under control and the civil protection association provide steaming cups of mulled wine and hot chocolate to help keep everyone warm. Unfortunately, today there was slightly too much wind and the fire chief decided it wasn't safe to light the fire. A second attempt will be made on Sunday (photos to follow on Sunday if we make it!)

I hope you've enjoyed a little taster of Sant'Ambrogio Day in Stresa. Does your town have a Saint Feast Day? How do you celebrate?

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