The origins of the Carresi

The origins of the Carresi

The Carrresi are a group of spring events that take place in Lower Molise. They have come down to the present day in the dual form of the procession of decorated carts in Larino and the float race in San Martino in Pensilis.

In the past the race and parade were held in both communities. San Martino has preserved, together with the race, also the parade of decorated carts for the procession on May 2nd in honor of San Leo.

Larino, however, has only preserved the procession in honor of S. Pardo. Oral tradition and some written sources place these events in the Middle Ages (IX for Larino, XII for S. Martino). During this period each county tried to appropriate the relics of a Saint in order to place itself under their protection.

More recently, the Albanian communities in the area have adapted the religious ceremonial and folkloric purpose of the Carrese to the celebration of the Madonna of Constantinople in Portocannone and the Wood of the Cross in Ururi.

The race also takes place in Chieuti, another Albanian community in the province of Foggia just across the border from Molise.

The local traditions of these counties see in the race the re-enactment of the escape from the homeland and the landing on the Molise coasts in the 15th century of the Albanian diaspora.

However, historians who, in the first decades of the 1700s, spoke of the Carresi of Larino and S. Martino did not mention those of the Albanian towns.

It is assumed that these Carresi coincide with the subsequent integration of the Albanians from the Greek Orthodox tradition to the local religious and popular traditions (18th century).

The San Martino chariot race and the legend of the discovery of the remains of San Leo

For centuries, the ox cart race takes place annually in San Martino in Pensilis. The race is linked to the memory of the translation of the remains of St. Leo from the Casalpiano woods where the convent of S. Felice was located, to the church of S. Maria di San Martino. The winning cart of the race has the honor of carrying the Saint in procession.

Popular legend has it that after a hunting trip with his followers, Roberto di Bassavilla, Count of Loretello tied his horse to a ring attached to a large stone. In the evening, returning to the clearing, they noticed a light emanating from an open tomb, around which the horses were kneeling.

Having gone down into the tomb, they found an urn and a lead pipe with a parchment inside, where it was written that the urn contained the remains of St. Leo.

Immediately a heated discussion began between them because each of them requested the remains of the Saint. In order to calm things down the Count, decided to consult with the bishop of Larino who responded with this message: “Yoke two untamed bulls to a cart, place the Saint’s urn on the cart and let the animals run as they please. The animals will carry the urn where the Saint wants to be venerated.”

The feudal lords obeyed and encouraged the animals to run. They passed through various locations (Rotello, Ururi, Chieuti, Campomarino) and when it seemed that they wanted to head towards Termoli, they turned away and galloped towards S. Martino.

Tired from the effort, the bulls collapsed in front of the church of Santa Maria and, to the surprise of the population, the urn disappeared only to be found on the main altar of the church.

Historical documentation instead tells us that St. Leo lived most of his religious life in the St. Felice convent, where he lived a holy life and his miracles brought him such fame that the people and the bishop of Larino proclaimed him a Saint immediately after hisdeath. The convent was abandoned shortly after his death due to barbarian invasions, earthquakes and malaria.

The body of the Saint remained buried under the altar of the convent church for more than a century until one day, by chance or by divine will, Roberto di Bassavilla, Count of Loretello, going hunting, discovered the body of the Saint (between 1154, the year of his nomination as count and 1182, the year of Count Roberto’s death). The body of San Leo was carried “in procession” on a cart pulled by oxen, accompanied by the clergy and the local people, to the church of Santa Maria