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Feast and traditions of the red-cloaked saint

The Apostle come from Santiago de Compostela.

In the middle of July, a fairly unusual spectacle may be noted by those walking in Piazza del Duomo who, if they look up towards cathedral’s roof, will see a white statue wrapped in a heavy, red wool cloak. For Pistoia’s inhabitants, this well-known figure symbolizes the beginning of the traditional festivities tied to the cult of St. James, the city’s patron saint.

In the year 1144, Bishop Atto had a relic, a small bone of the skull, of the apostle James the Greater brought to Pistoia from Santiago de Compostela. Two Pistoians, Tebaldo and Mediovillano, escorted the relic on its long journey to our city.
The relic’s arrival was received with great celebration and its presence made the city one of the key stops for pilgrims traveling the Via Francigena. The pilgrims’ offerings bestowed on the Saint greatly enriched the city, forming a true sacred treasure.

Many folk traditions born at that time are still today alive in Pistoia’s culture, culminating with the patron saint’s feast day on 25 July.
The festivities began with religious celebrations in a Piazza del Duomo bedecked with plants and all kinds of fruit festoons. It continued with the procession, now faithfully re-enacted by the people in historical costumes, followed by the traditional joust, the famous Giostra dell’orso, in which city’s four neighborhoods competed in a horse race to win a richly decorated prize. This still vibrant tradition attracts many tourists to the city from around the world.

There were various kinds of celebrations, including the ostension of Saint James’s treasure in the cathedral; the famous lighting of the fires, incandescent resin bonfires now been replaced by fireworks; the release of some prisoners; and the distribution of bread to the people.
One characteristic Jacobean tradition, now sadly lost, was the rich colazione zuccherina, (sugary collation), offered to the nobility at the celebrations, and which featured jams, wafers, candied fruit, and fine wines. In addition, there were the Pistoian berlingozzo, a ring-shaped cake, and the anaci confecti, aniseed confections, both typical sweets made for the occasion with local products and distributed to city’s dignitaries.

Traces of the Jacobean culinary tradition can be seen in the maccheroni al sugo di anatra, a pasta with duck sauce; anatra in umido; a duck stew; and fagioli serpenti, extremely long string beans, still today inevitably found on the table of Pistoia during the patron’s feast day.
However the curiosity of tourists visiting our city who see that red cape waving above the head of the statue of St. James has not yet been satisfied…
Legend has it that before his conversion, James was a horse broker. He bought horses without ever paying for them and promised his creditors to pay off his debt as soon as the hot weather arrived. However, when the creditors came to him in the middle of July, James appeared still wrapped in a heavy, red wool cloak, complaining about the particularly cold weather…

Sant’Jacopo

TEXTS

Martina Meloni

PHOTOS

Gianluigi Premuda

[vc_gallery type=”image_grid” images=”22650,22648,22646,22644,22642,22640,22638,22636″ title=”Feast and traditions of the red-cloaked saint”]

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