PANI DELLA TRADIZIONE
SALEMI BREAD CYCLE
In Salemi, during certain periods of the year, bread is produced in several different shapes, getting close to assume sacral meaning.
Saint Antony Abate on January 17th, Saint Blaise on February 3rd, Saint Joseph on March 19th or all spring long, Easter, Saint Francis from Paola on the third Sunday of each month as well as on each Friday of the week, Saint Antony from Padua on June 13th, the threshing closing, Saint Nicklaus from Tolentino on September 10th and 11th, the commemoration of the deceased on November 2nd, Saint Elizabeth on November 17th, Christmas. All of these are important occasions during which differently shaped bread is often wrapped as a devotion sign to God and always as charity to the poor ones.
Bread holiness is a very ancient tradition in the entire Mediterranean basin. In fact, Homer used to call his compatriots “bread-eating men” to distinguish civilized Greeks from the barbaric people. In Sicily, women from Syracuse used to offer bread to Demeter, goddess of the harvest. Later, bread offerings acquired value also in the Christian religion.
1- Saint Antony Abate’s
Before the earthquake 1968, on January 17th it was tradition to gather the pets, especially horses, mules and donkeys, at the back of Saint Antony Abate’s church. After the earthquake, the new church where to gather the pets was Saint Francis from Paola’s.
At the end of the Holy Mass, the priest would bless the animals giving them also the so called “pruvenna”, a mixture of oat, broad beans and barley plus a handful of tiny ring-shaped unleavened bread called “Cuddureddi di Sant’Antoninu”.
2- Saint Blaise
On February 3rd, the narrow streets of the Arabian quarter, called Rabato, fill up with devoted people coming from all over the city as well as from neighbouring towns. Everyone intends to get to Saint Blaise’s church to assist to the functions and to the blessing of the throat.
These people are given a holy card representing Saint Blaise along with tiny shaped loaves, called “Cuddureddi” and “Cavadduzzi”.
Cuddureddi: tiny ring-shaped unleavened bread representing the throat. They are considered to have therapeutic properties.
Cavadduzzi: according to the tradition, in 1542 an invasion of locusts was exterminating Salemi’s harvests. The people turned to Saint Blaise, who graced them by driving away the locusts. Thus, since 1542 tradition is honoured by making very small sculptures out of unleavened bread.
For the production of said bread, both the flour choice and the kneading phase are essential because the dough has to be hard enough and air-free on the inside. For such reason, it is kneaded by a tool made with a polished board attached to a shaft called “Sbria”.
When making the bread, the whole neighbourhood is called to help and each one is assigned with a specific role.
Men have to find the right flour as well as help the women in the kneading phase by handling the Sbria, considering how much strength this work requires.
The dough is left to rest for an entire night is special containers. The morning after, women gathered on the first floor of the sacristy decide the assignments for each one of them according to each one’s experience.
Some of them “scanano”, which means they work the dough and make Cuddureddi using a small pocketknife and a tool made out of a metal sheet resembling pliers, having the extremities carved into small teeth. It is called “mucaciu” or “mucacia”. Other women, thanks to their mastery, carve the Cavadduzzi out of bread using the same tools. Kids also make themselves useful by collecting all the bread into baskets and bringing them to the elderlies, who have to lay them on trays first and then bake them in the oven for a few minutes. The oven must be heated up to the right temperature before the baking phase.
Recently, more shapes were added to the set thanks to the imagination of those who work on this activity: Saint Blaise’s hand and walking stick, the duck and the tiny and precious baskets containing fruits and flowers, whose beauty could easily replace a jewel.
The religious function has not always been the only event to take part into. In fact, up to a few years ago, it was possible to take part in a few folklore games.
3- Saint Giuseppe’s Supper
In Salemi, the devotion to Saint Joseph, protector of the family, has always been remarkable and it still is today. On March 19th or during the entirety of Spring several different altars are set up. These altars are called “Ceni di San Giuseppi”, whose name surely recalls the suppers in the Gospel. Said altars have always been set up by people who during the intervention of the Saint received the grace. In fact, until a few years ago those who used to invite to join the festival (“nmitare a San Giuseppe”) wondered for the streets of the town, sometimes bare-footed, asking for handouts in order to realize his or her own vow.
The realization of the Suppers is very complex and the preparation carried on for longer than a fortnight. It is divided in phases: the preparation of the bread, the preparation of the altar, the preparation of the courses and the preparation of the actual banquet.
For the preparation and the production of the bread, women are helped by the neighbourhood. The tools required in the figurative modelling were seen in the previous description: small pocketknives, tight combs to draw, scissors and needles to add details, thimbles to impress small circles as well as more figures and the so-called “Mucaciu”, a tool made out of a metal sheet resembling pliers, having the extremities carved into small teeth. It is often used in the bread preparation during the festivity of Saint Blaise.
The main characteristic of Saint Joseph bread is that of being an allegory of all creation. Indeed, amongst the beings of creation animals take on a representative symbolic role, despite not always being associated with a religious meaning. In fact, the pagan element seems to be dominant. The Dove is the symbol for peace, the Eagle stands for strength and justice, the Horse represents intellect, the Dog symbolizes loyalty, the Butterfly and generally the Birds stand for the spiritual elevation. Amongst the representations from the animal realm also the Peacock is there to symbolize the beauty of creation and Christ resurrection. To complete such symbolism, it is possible to find also the Sun, the Moon and the Stars. They are part of creation as well as profane symbols. In fact, they stand for old allegoric pagan figures which tried to associate God with the Sun and the Virgin with the Moon.
More bread characteristic figures can be mentioned in the attempt of explaining the association between their shape and their meaning. To symbolize abundancy, for example, small stuffed-full fruit baskets are accurately manufactured. To symbolize gratitude towards abundant harvests and Providence Grapes, Cherries, Loquats, Sorbs, Pears and Apples are manufactured. The religious symbolism is strictly represented by Ladders, Crosses, Nails and the Hammer (these are the symbols for the Passion). Furthermore, the Guiding Star is another important element, standing for the birth of the Christ.
Saint Joseph is represented by the tools he used in his profession, carpentry: Hammer, Saw, Pincers and Nails. The Virgin Mary is represented by: Scissors, Needle, Yarn, Distaff and Spindle. These elements stand for Mary’s hard work. Also, a big “M” is hung in front of the exhibition and it is referred to as Mary’s Name.
After manufacturing the small bread elements (Cuddureddi), the big ones are made and centred on the altar. They count for as many guests were invited to the Supper. Said guests are called “Virgineddi”, being three poor people representing the holy family.
The first bread element to be manufactured is called “Cucciddatu”, to be offered to who impersonates Jesus Christ. It has the shape of either a star or a flower, and it has several different characterizing elements carved onto its surface. Said elements are the letters GB, the fishes, the so called Cammisedda (Jesus’s shirt), the strips and the tools to lift the cross.
Later, it comes the “Parma”, the bread to be offered to who impersonates the Virgin Mary. It is manufactured to resemble dates because they were the only means of Mary’s nourishment during her escape to Egypt. Moreover, on top of a bed of brushwood and flowers additional elements are placed: the rose, the tools used by the woman at home, the big “M” and the dates.
At last, the “Vastuni” (the walking stick) addressed to who impersonates Joseph is manufactured; a big lily, the letters SG, the Saw, the Axe and the Hammer.
Before the baking phase, the surface of the bread is typically brushed with a mixture of beaten egg with a few drops of lemon juice, which gives it a shiny golden look.
After the preparation, both the altar and the wooden structure which contains it are set up. Said structure, made of many boards and planks covered in myrtle and bay tree leaves, has not a predefined design. In fact, the manufacturer sets it up according to his own inspiration. However, the structure need to comply with the dimension of the room where it is set up and it has to resemble to a temple-like structure; for example, it needs to have pillars, architraves and a frieze. Hence, the man and woman work here blends.
On the myrtle (Murtidda) and bay tree (Addavuru) leaves cover, oranges and lemons are hung together with the bread in all its various shapes; according to the meaning each shape has, a different position is decided.
The altar is constructed later. It is characterized by three to five stairs covered with white linoleum linen. The big shaped loaves are placed on said stairs according to the reference image picturing the Holy Family, which is placed on the altar, up high in the middle, along with the Spera (i.e. the Ostensory), the Chalice and two knelt angels.
After the altar is finished, it’s time to prepare all the different meals, which can get even to 101. Each course is rigorously prepared with what mother Earth provides in that period of the year. However, meat is forbidden since Saint Joseph occurs during Lent.
The day of the feast, at noon, after the three guests (called Santuzzi) took a seat at the dining table, the priest blesses the Supper while the tenants and the spectators rush to the rolling drums. After the tenant washes the hands of the commensals, he serves the first course. This usually is an orange, peeled by the guest impersonating Jesus Christ. Afterwards, meals are served one by one accompanied by rolling drums, firecrackers or gunshot and the ritual chant “Viva Gesù, Maria e Giuseppi”. The last course to be served is spaghetti with the soft inside of bread, lots of sugar, parsley and oil (it is called Pasta ca Muddica).
In the past, the so called Orvi (blind folks singing and playing at festivals for something to eat) came during the ceremony looking for a trade in meals and drinks. In exchange, they played “Li parti di San Giuseppi” and sang “A Litania di San Giuseppi”, arranged by Maestro Antonino Sciacca.
4- In Easter, in Salemi and in Sicily as well, it is tradition to produce sweet bread covered in icing with eggs on it. It is called Cannatune.
5 - SAN FRANCESCO DI PAOLA
On Friday, in the narrow streets of the quarter called “Santu Patri”, it is still possible to encounter a small procession made up of 13 kids.
The first of them impersonates Saint Francis from Paola; he leans on his walking stick with flowers on its top extremity. He has an accurately manufactured loaf on his arm. He starts to sing a folk chant (the hymn is “Santu Patri Santu Patri”) together with his family, who made the vow, and the guests.
At the Sanctuary, after joining for the Mass, they return to the house of the devoted, where they will be nourished up to fill their belly (traditionally said “inchiri i panzuddi”) similar to the ritual of the Supper of Saint Joseph. The only exception here is about spaghetti being flavoured with boiled broad beans.
Occasionally, on the third Sunday of April a procession walks on the streets of the quarter. Sometimes the occasion is connected to a period of drought or to a period of intense rainfall; in any case the occasion refers to an event risking to compromise the labour in the fields as well as the harvests. During the procession, the simulacrum of the Saint is carried over to the church of “Santa Maria degli Angeli” (Saint Mary of the Angels); the angels are called “Rifurmati”. Here, there is a Crucifix strongly venerated by the people. After 15 days, the simulacrum is returned to its church.
The elderlies tell that some guy for one of these occasions exclaimed: “sciu u mastru di l’acqua” (“the maintenance technician in charge of water control came out”). It rained right after and in the night the Saint beat the unfortunate folk with a cane.
Occasionally, the Festivity Committee set up “A cena du Santu Patri” (The Supper of the Holy Father) with the help of the entire quarter. The supper is very similar to the one seen in the ritual of Saint Joseph, except for the number of guests. In fact, for the ritual of Saint Francis from Paola 13 are the guests invited to the supper, and they are named “I Tridici Virgineddi” (The 13 Virgins).
6 - SANT'ANTONIO DA PADOVA
On June 13th, the believers going to the church to attend Saint Antony’s religious function are given small round loaves with a cross carved onto it. The original of such tradition is unknown; it was forgotten and only resumed around 20 years ago. The simulacrum can occasionally be taken along during the procession. Saint Antony from Padua is prayed to in order to find lost belongings or to make the children fall asleep.
7 - PERI DI VOI
At the end of the threshing, the farmers used to thank the animals because they were of great help working the fields during the year. They would make a horseshoe-shaped loaf from the first flour batch called Peri di Voi (Ox Foot). It would be characterized by the so called “giovo” and the feet of the animals. The former element is a sort of shaft to be placed on the neck of the two animals to have them in the correct position to carry out their work with the plow.
8 - SAN NICOLO' DA TOLENTINO
Saint Nicklaus from Tolentino was the first beatified from the Order of the Augustinian (from which his cult was introduced) to be proclaimed Saint from Eugene IV on February 5th, 1446.
From one of the Order’s countability books, safeguarded at the State Archives in Trapani, it is read how much money the Augustinian spent in 1779 to prepare the so called “Panelli di San Nicolò da Tolentino”.
On September 9th and 10th these small rounded loaves with a cross carved on them were given to the believers who were to keep them in order to protect themselves from plagues and fires.
9 - PANI DI MORTI O MANUZZI
Up until the 1968 earthquake, on November 2nd people from Salemi used to go to the cimitery with arms-crossed-shaped loaves called “Pani di Morti” or “Manuzzi” (i.e. Loaves of the Dead).
In seeking a sort of spiritual approval from the loved ones, these loaves were offered to the poor crowding the cemetery’s front yard.
According to the lore, those who offered bread to charity (bread is considered the main meal for survival) allowed their own loved ones to live happily in Heavens. Otherwise, they’d be sad.
10 - SAN MARTINO
In Sicily, Saint Martin is very popular in a negative way. In fact, it is considered the protectors of drunkards (it is common habit to exclaim “CU SI LEVA DI VINU VUCIA SAN MARTINU”, which means “who drinks their day off of wine will be shouting SAN MARTINU”). In Catania, there is a different version of the tale about Saint Martin giving half of his cape to a poor man. In fact, the latter would actually be the Devil, who was able to trick drunk Saint Martin into giving him the halved cape. Moreover, in Misterbianco, Saint Martin is the protector of ‘patient (PACINZIUSI) cuckholds’. Furthermore, each city in the island traditionally uses to prepare a specific dessert. In Salemi, said dessert is called MUSTAZZOLO, that is a mixture of flour, almonds and cooked wine.
11- SANTA ELISABETTA D'UNGHERIA
It is told that Saint Elizabeth (queen of Hungary) used to leave very often her mansion to help the poor. The king didn’t agree with her because he considered such deed a dishonour, so he forbid her to keep acting like that. Nonetheless, the queen never stopped her charity work. One day, though, her mother-in-law found her by the stairs with the apron (“A favura”) filled with bread and took her by surprise. She asked Elizabeth what she had in the apron, and the latter replied “flowers”. However, when she was asked to open the apron, only a bundle of flowers was there, hence a miracle occurred. This is the origin of the tradition according to which on November 17th flower-shaped loaves are manufactured and brought to the main church, called Chiesa Madre, to be blessed and offered to the poor.
Today, the picture of Saint Elizabeth is safeguarded by the Capuchin monks in their monastery.
12 - CARCOCCIULU
An artichoke-shaped loaf was made by very poor families who couldn’t afford to buy the more expensive sweet pastries. Mothers used to make these loaves in the attempt to bring some joy to their family.
13 - CANNALICCHI
These are Christmas pastries made out of shortcrust pastry and dried figs covered in white icing.