The name, Ferragosto, derives from Latin. Feriae Augusti (Augustus’s rest) was chosen in honor of Octavian Augustus, the first Roman emperor, from whom the month of August takes its name.
It was a time of rest and celebration, instituted by the emperor himself.
During the Roman times, festivals and horse races were organized throughout the Empire, and animals, exempt from work in the fields, were adorned with flowers. Furthermore, it was a custom that, in these days, the peasants would wish the landowners their best wishes, receiving a tip in exchange.
Nowadays, the 15th of August is a public bank holiday in Italy as we celebrate the Virgin Mary.
We often ‘forget to remember’ its Roman origin but we celebrate it the ‘Roman way’ with celebrations, feasts and opulence. We have events, beach parties and many fireworks displays on this date.
Even though the holiday would be a religious one in fact, its religious connotation has been long lost and now this day is known for being a day to spend at the beach or barbecuing with friends.
Most shops are closed on this day and services are limited on this day and the days leading to it.
Luckily, the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven is still celebrated through some religious events organized by local parishes and the procession at sea of A Madonna du ma (The Virgin Mary of the Sea in dialect) is perhaps the most spectacular one to see.
It is held in the Ligurian village of Albisola and it is organized by the parishes and by a group of amateur fishermen who lend their boats for the occasion.
The program includes the departure from the pier close to the beach of the fishermen at dusk.
A statue of the Virgin Mary is placed onto a boat and secured.
The boat then travels along the coast and stops at the Presepe degli Abissi, the underwater nativity.
The program then entails a blessing of the sea and the arrival of the procession by sea to the beach where people would be waiting.
The lifeguards then bring their homage to the passage of the Virgin Mary effigy by lifting their paddles.
Following the boat bearing the Madonna, the participation of vessels or boats is welcome.
The ritual is an annual event deeply felt by the faithful of the parishes and it is part of the program of initiatives for the Saint Patron celebrations held throughout the year.
There are other such boat processions in some fishermen villages across Liguria but the Albisola one is the one I got to see in person.
Scenic Procession at sea of A Madonna du ma
In Genoa city there is also a procession on foot which goes from the city center to the holy sanctuary.
The tradition, which continued for more than 200 years from the end of the 17th century to the beginning of World War II was then resumed in 2001 and it’s going strong.
On the 15th of August each year, at exactly five in the morning, many churchgoers reunite at the Sanctuary of the Madonnetta (little Virgin Mary) where it is believed that the Virgin would have made an apparition on this exact date. The statue of the holy Lady would then be transported to the city center and back to the sanctuary.