The Barabbata Festival is held every year on 14 May on the shores of Lake Bolsena in the fishing village of Marta near Viterbo. The festival is a catholicised re-enaction of pagan rites of spring and consists of parading a portrait of the Virgin through the town and up to the church at the top of the hill. What sets it apart from thousands of other religious festivals is the enthusiasm with which the townsfolk construct their highly elaborate floats each year. These have got so big over the years that most of them can no longer manage the narrow lanes of the old town and have to be paraded along the main thoroughfare. Despite its devotion to the Madonna it’s an all male affair, the women are restricted to casting flowers from their balconies. The ‘modern’ festival dates back to 1563 though it probably has its origins in pagan Etruscan festivities.
The trades involved are the fishermen; the shepherds; the ‘butteri’, the cowboys of the Maremma; the herdsmen and the villani, the villains or peasants all dressed in their traditional costume. All is accompanied by loud cheering of “Evviva Maria, evviva il santisimo sacramento, Evviva la Madonna!” and there is also a noisy local band led, rather incongruously given the antiquity of the festival, by majorettes twirling their batons.
The festival starts at 4.00 AM with a drummer beating round the town awakening all the participants to put the finishing touches to their floats. They then start forming up along the lake shore from about 8 and the procession heads off through the town from 9 arriving at the church of the Madonna del Monte above the town at around noon where everyone then indulges in a wine picnic surrounded by their on-looking animals.
This year the 14th falls on a Saturday which means there’ll be more visitors than usual but don’t be put off it’s a great day out.
Marta can be reached by local buses departing from Viterbo. Two train lines connect Rome and Viterbo: the FR3 main stops in downtown Rome are Ostiense, Trastevere and San Pietro, the other line’s terminus is Flaminio.
For other travel news on the Viterbo province read this article.
The most famous and typical religious ceremony of northern Lazio is Santa Rosa, in downtown Viterbo.