On January 16th, every year, the Farchie in Fara Filiorum Petri burn in front of the local church of Saint Anthony the Abbot, patron of the town in the province of Chieti, Abruzzo, celebrated on the following day.
The “farchie”, as expert Alfredo Cattabiani explains in his “Lunario”, “are cylindrical bundles of wood tied with red willow branches, measuring about seventy to one hundred centimeters in diameter, about ten meters in length, and as heavy as twenty-five hundred kilos.”
Locals put them together over the months leading to the day of Saint Antony, then stock them in extremely dry places so they can burn easily on January 16th. The tradition dates back to the late 18th century, as Cattabiani explains:
“Some say that in 1799, the French troops invaded the Kingdom of Naples to instate the Parthenopean Republic. While one column started taking over Fara – a feud belonging to the Colonna family – a violent, mysterious fire burnt down the town’s small oak forest, stopping the foreign troops’ advance.”
“The story goes, each oak tree had transformed into a giant warrior holding a tower of fire instead of a sword: unable to explain the fire, the local people attributed it to a miraculous intervention by their patron saint. Since then, the episode is commemorated with the farchie’s fire towers, which are meant to symbolize the flaming wall that stopped the French soldiers.”
What happens during the celebration?
“At around two in the afternoon, the people living in the various neighborhoods start coming out carrying the heavy farchie either on their shoulders or with tractors, reaching the square in front of the church of Saint Anthony the Abbot. Here, the imposing cane columns are lifted up vertically with ropes, while button accordion players sing the ‘Saint Anthony Orations’.”
“Then the apical blooms are lit on fire like wickers. Surrounded by an enthusiastic audience, the farchie are burnt down to the middle. Finally, they are carried back to the various ‘contrade’, where they are lit back up to be completely burnt” (translated from A. Cattabiani, “Lunario”, Mondadori, Milan 1994).
Now let’s let the fire do the talking.