A week of fiestas, processions and miraculous happenings. Simmons of the Bari section, spending a night with us, described a medieval spectacle he had watched at Guarda Sanframondi where an order of flagellants half-kill themselves every seven years in honour of their Virgin. This bloody display of fervour is frowned upon by the Vatican and was suppressed under Fascism, when it was felt that such spectacles did little to support the image of Italy as a modern industrial nation. In the current atmosphere of disillusionment, escapism and hysteria, it has been resuscitated with enthusiasm. Several hundred hooded and white-robed penitents who had prepared themselves for the day by long periods of fasting and abstention from sexual intercourse practically took over the village and paraded through the streets, beating themselves on the bare chest with sharp pieces of rock. Simmons said their robes were soaked with blood. There was a dramatic moment when a man carrying one of the banners was publicly accused of being a cuckold – a crime by local standards. He was rescued from lynching by the police, and taken into protective custody.

Norman Lewis, “Naples ’44: An Intelligence Officer in the Italian Labyrinth”.

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