Every five years in Carzano an ancient tradition is renewed and for 4 days the village tries to assert its own identity, mixing the sacred and the profane.
It is a long-awaited festival, well-known all over the Sebino area and attracting thousands of tourists: the people from Sale Marasino call it “ol festù del deaol” (the devil’s feast), emphasizing the excessive pomp in comparison with fishermen’s financial means; in Iseo people say “it is the year of the Carzano feasts”, whereas in Carzano people simply call it “the feasts for our Saint Cross (Santa Croce)”.
A peculiarity of this tradition lies in the fact that, for over one and a half centuries (someone even says since 1630), it has been held according to a rigorously cyclic pattern; another peculiar feature is the hard-working preparation which involves all local people and at the same time excludes those who do not belong to the local community. This festival must always come as a surprise for the people from the other villages: the aim is that of surprising, even though celebration rules must remain unchanged. Wooden “arches” covered in pine branches, paper flowers, lights, cannon shots, procession, fireworks are a must, around which expectations, feelings, competitions and excitement rotate.
Locl people carry both the honour and the expenses of the feast by contributing voluntarily every month and appointing a special commission which deals with financial and organizational tasks. This special tax has always been paid even by the poor, and this surprised Don Bartolomeo Giudici, a curate who visited the hamlet in 1922 and wrote in his diary as follows: “In this district there is a pious association of Santa Croce (Saint Cross) to which everyone, without distinction, belongs with the aim of supporting the quinquennial celebrations; all members of the families pay a monthly fee”.
The origins of the festival can be found in the first cholera epidemic: “The quinquennial celebrations in honour of Saint Cross date back to the time when this area was tormented by the so-called Asian cholera. The population turned to Saint Cross for protection and the disease suddenly disappeared as if by magic”. The cholera epidemic began in India in 1817 and for years it was expected and feared all over Europe. It reached Italy in 1835 and Brescia in 1836. This first epidemic was characterized by the highest mortality rate and many thanksgiving, votive cults were created by survivors. In Monte Isola the most affected people were the ones living on the lake side, fishermen, who were more at Il colera scoppiato nel 1817 in India, atteso e temuto per anni in tutta Europa, raggiunse l’Italia nel 1835 e Brescia nel 1836.
risk of contagion because they were always in contact with dirty and stagnant waters and used to live in damp rooms by their wet nets. In July 1836 the first official case of cholera in Carzano was reported in the “Register of Deaths”, and after that deaths continued at a rate of 2-3 per day in the hamlet. The last death (the 31st) was reported on 26 July on a total of 200 inhabitants. All the dead were between 30 and 55 years old.
Then came the vow: a relic of Saint Cross was carried in procession and “the disease disappeared as if by magic”. Only a miracle had been able to defeat this exotic disease that more than others had caught people’s imagination, who thought of epidemics as natural calamities or a “scourge of God” to which you had to submit impotently. In comparison with such a great fear even the vow, the survivors’ feast had to be grand and involve the whole village. The “arches” were made at first with the green part of reeds, which used to grow on the lakeside, then, as reeds started to disappear, with pine branches bought from the “mainland”, since they did not grow on the island and were therefore precious. Lights were made with snail shells filled with oil. Furthermore, each family would hang out of the window their jealously guarded embroideries.
The lack of fresh flowers, an unaffordable luxury for local people, probably generated the tradition of creating paper flowers, which then began the object of family competitions. Nowadays these flowers continue to be secretly made according to procedures that are handed down from mother to daughter. Each family decorates several arches and the flowers are hung at the last minute. There are thousands of different types of flowers: roses, considered as the easiest ones, clusters of wisteria, orchids, all made with such precision and skill to be easily taken for real ones. The old oil lights have now been replaced by thousands of light bulbs decorating every street, alley and door. Wooden arches, decorated with pine branches, are built by local people in the evening, after work, during a long and lively preparation that lasts until late at night. Pine branches are bought from the Scalve Valley, transported to the island in lorries and lighters and then carried along the narrow roads of the island by pulleys and carts. Then the festival starts, with its regular cannon shots, the band, the Santa Croce procession celebrated by the Bishop of Brescia, the hanging of the embroideries, fireworks, jam-packed ferry boats, thousands of tourists pushing their way through the crowd and secretly stealing paper flowers and, in the lights reflected in the lake, the hustle and bustle of the fair.
The most genuine part of this collective experience lies in the months of hard work, the excitement for the preparations
and the eve of the feast, while waiting to be, for four days, the protagonists of a fabulous experience.