The San Casciano bonfires: a festival of fire
Mystery envelops the roots of the tradition by which every April 11 two grand bonfires are lit on the two opposite banks of the river Montone in San Casciano, Emilia-Romagna.
What we know is that the people from the two districts of Borgo di sopra and Mercato compete to make the most beautiful bonfire, in one of the perhaps infinite folk events that somehow go back to the myth of man subduing fire. As Dutch sociologist Johan Goudsblom explained in his “Fire and Civilization” (Penguin, London 1992), fire was seen as a blessing for humankind – a blessing that often needed the help of gods or heroes like Prometheus.
Goudsblom referenced anthropologist and folklore expert sir James Frazier, who in his “Myths of the Origin of Fire” included a range of stories proving how different people, around the world, have always considered fire to be something extremely precious, granted to their forefathers by luck or obtained through deception.
Goudsblom also quotes French author Lévy-Strauss, for his conclusion that all myths about fire have one idea in common: that men became fully “human” only once they had control over fire.
If Goudsblom had ever seen the bonfires in San Casciano, he might have added that these rituals are spectacular and great fun as well.