On one day a year, this quiet church is transformed into the hub of the writhing Festival of the Snakes.
Located in the small town of Cocullo, Italy, Santa Maria delle Grazie holds the wooden statue of Saint Dominic which is central to the May 1 Feast of Dan Domenico Abate, also known as the Processione dei Serpari, or the Festival of the Snakes. Story goes that in the 10th century, the Benedictine monk cleared the fields around Cocullo of snakes, and also healed snake bites.
Now his story is fused with that of the pagan snake goddess Angizia. The procession dates to the 14th century, and as the statue of Saint Dominic is moved from the church it is totally covered with snakes. The parade is led by oboes and clarinets and is joined by snake charmers who start arriving in the area in mid-March. At the end of the procession, locals ring the bell of Santa Maria della Grazie with their teeth, as Saint Dominic is also a patron healer of toothaches.
While the sight is certainly alarming if slithering scales unsettle you, rest assured that none of the snakes are poisonous and they are defanged, as well as lavishly taken care of so they won’t be restless during the procession. It’s said if they fall from the statue, bad luck is ahead.