Festival Of Snake-Catchers In Cocullo

Creepy Snake Festival Slithers Through Southern Italy

Greetings from one of Italy's oldest (and strangest) celebrations.

Every year at the beginning of May, the sleepy town of Cocullo, Italy (population 246), welcomes thousands of snake-lovers and curious tourists to their village (just 85 miles west of Rome) for the Cocullo Snake Festival, in honor of Saint Dominic. Here, photos from this year's celebrations and a look at why Cocullo started the slithery tradition in the first place.

SERPENT CITY Antonio Masiello/Getty Images SERPENT CITY The annual celebration has ties to the 11th century when Saint Dominic is said to have cleared the local fields of its snake population, ultimately saving villagers from venomous and deadly bites. SNAKE DOCTOR TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images SNAKE DOCTOR In addition to clearing the fields, Saint Dominic was known for his ability to cure poisonous snake bites. He is recognized as a saint who determines salvation from the bites of poisonous or rabid animals. ST. ANTIDOTE TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images ST. ANTIDOTE As a sign of gratitude, the village (which sits 85 miles west of Rome), built a statue in his honor that they parade around their streets every year. Festival-goers place money, jewels, and, of course, snakes on his effigy, in the hopes of gaining immunity to snake venom during the coming year.
Festival Of Snake-Catchers In Cocullo
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Antonio Masiello/Getty Images VIPER VETO Antonio Masiello/Getty Images VIPER VETO Hundreds of nonvenomous snakes, typically Cervone snakes, are captured and brought to the parade. In the early days, vipers were used in the festival, but that tradition was squashed by government officials who deemed it, yes, a public safety issue. FREE WIGGLY TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images FREE WIGGLY When the day's festivities are done and attendees have been properly blessed for the coming year, the snakes are released into the wild where they can live out their lives. Beats the old tradition when they were simply cooked and eaten.