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The Madonna of Carmine belongs to women ENG, ITA, SPA

I am in Alessandria del Carretto (CS)in the middle of the Pollino National Park. Here a growing group of women dedicates part of the year thinking about how to adorn their crowns in honor of the Madonna of Carmine. These are real devotional works of art made following specific construction rules (mostly local rules). There is space for a moderate creativity  which is never intrusive and... heavy: in fact the women parade during a dancing procession for six hours taking the crowns on their head.


The procession begins in the evening of 23rd of August, when Margaret tells me to follow her in the house to take the crown. This is the first time for her, she made a beautiful red coloured crown, different from the others: "Those of Plataci (village Arbëreshë CS province) have this squared shape ... for me it was a coincidence, because my father is from Plataci and almost unconsciously I created a mix of the typical shapes of Plataci and Alessandria. " Her mother is waiting for her with the new crown on her head and barefoot: "This year I decided to perform the whole procession barefoot as a sign of devotion". Women, who were looking at her curiously, later told me that once there were many barefoot women; anyone who had a vote walked barefoot and stripped of the wedding dress in front of the Virgin Mary.

We leave from Margherita’s house followed by a small procession of bagpipe and tambourine musicians. In the first part of the festival there is the search of all the crowns present in the streets of the village. After a few meters walking we already see the first one: she is Angela with its crown that represents the dome of a church. The two crowns meet each other and dance together a tarantella, then they continue the way until the group will be completed. This year there are six crowns. They will be kept in the church until the next morning.
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At 9.00 a.m., the women dress the Virgin Mary, they take her on their arms and leave for the long pilgrimage. The village is celebrating, there's the band in front of the procession followed by the group of women dancing with crowns, the group of players, the women carring the Virgin Mary and the whole village behind. In six hours they will be visiting every house in Alessandria. Someone offers refreshments to the tired women, others make generous offerings to the Virgin Mary and recite prayers, others follow the procession from the balcony of their house.
The music alternates between a powerful whole band and a miserable group of bagpipe and tambourine players. Unfortunately a few days ago in Alessandria there was a mourning, and so now the players prefer not to play. In this trip I have lost a lot of opportunities due to the mournings, I cannot bear them anylonger.
The choral performance of the crowns is beautiful, women compete to wear one crown so the "owners" can rest and dance the tarantella more relaxed. This year also Isabella tries. At first she hesitated, perhaps she was afraid to fall and break the crown, or perhaps she was not sure to be ready ... to parade with the crown for the Virgin Mary is an important opportunity full of deep meanings. I watch her when she takes Margherita’s crown, I turn off the camera and I enjoy this scene without filters. Isabella hesitating calibrates the weight in the head and starts, she made it, she is ready and triumphant.
This year there is also a man with the crown on his head; this is an extraordinary fact, the Madonna of Carmine is a purely feminine festival, but that crown is an historical one and belongs to a woman who has always participated in the procession, this year she can not do it because she is ill, he is his nephew.
The procession continues, the women seem to be full of energy instead of beeing tired and continue to dance nonstop. It is evening, we reach the church, last spark of joy, then the Virgin Mary is undressed and the crowns put away until next year. Women are betting that there will be many more, and Alessandria goes back to its calm.
MORE PICTURE (those above have been taken by Paolo Napoli)
Thanks to: the women of the crowns, Paolo Napoli, the City Council of Alessandria del Carretto, Mimma, Andrea the one of the accident and Giusi Duino. The staff of Radicazioni, Sandro Brunacci, Alessandro Adduci, the whole Alessandria. 

Subtitles: Giulia Forlivesi

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