La Festa di Santa Restituta

Once upon a time a poor woman was martyred for her Christian beliefs. To make sure she was well and truly destroyed those responsible put her body in a boat, towed her out to sea and set the whole thing on fire. After drifting about the charred remains of the boat finally made landfall on Ischia, where it was discovered that amazingly the woman’s body was completely unmarked by the fire. A miracle, clearly this was a restored saint. She was given a Christian burial and a shrine was set up in her honour at Lacco Ameno, where she is believed to have landed. Every year in May the burning boat is brought ashore, the next day a plaster statue of the saint is carried out from her shrine and parades around streets lined with fairy lights, then she is taken out to sea for a ceremony and it all ends in a firework display.

We wandered into Lacco Ameno in time for the sea pageant. We could see the dais with the saint on the largest of a flotilla of small boats at the edge of the bay. Gun salutes were exchanged between the shore and the boats, followed by a display of daytime fireworks, flashes of magnesium bright lights and puffs of coloured smoke, exploding in ricochets from points along the cliff. Finally a huge bang summoned the little fleet back to shore. John and I wandered into town past a children’s funfair doing a roaring trade. The streets had been transformed by an array of massive fretwork arches festooned with small clear light bulbs. We had seen these white structures stacked in a series of trucks the year before, but this had given no idea of the scale of the display. It was small wonder they had been hastily packed away as the huge archways were merely resting on the ground, held up by a network of tensioned wires. There was a Moorish quality the white lacy monoliths. Beneath them the streets were lined with market stalls trading food and wares. Notable amongst the stalls was the candyfloss man. He was a young man with a winning smile. At the chance of a customer he set going a small record player and did a little shuffling dance away from his candyfloss machine, spinning a sticky ectoplasm across the ever increasing gap he was creating, whilst he serenaded the client and maintained terrifying eye contact. We watched one woman begging him to stop, as he had a good meter of spume trailing from an already loaded stick, destined for her small entranced child. Then the lights came on in a tinkling wave of blue and yellow and we were wandering through a fairyland. We had a meal in a harbour side restaurant and then headed back to vantage point overlooking the cliffs for the spectacular shells of the evening fireworks. All in all this is a spectacle to plan a holiday round.



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