In Pacentro (Province of Aquila), a medieval village nestled between Mount Morrone and the Majella massif, on the first Sunday of September, in honor of the feast of the Madonna di Loreto, a very special ritual called "Gypsy race", where Gypsy does not means nomad, but in the Archaic pacent dialect means 'the one who walks barefoot'.
The word Gypsy was synonymous with "starved", in person "barefoot and naked", poor in cane. But why does this spectacular "race" attract a lot of people?
Participants in this ancient rite - until a few years ago - were typically peasants, workers and / or pastors of the place and surroundings, some returned and still come back from abroad to participate. In the late afternoon of the day of the party, they gather at a rock called Pietra Spaccata, which protrudes in front of the village.
Over the years we have seen people experience moments of anxiety and great participation. At the first tolling of the bell, the young begin a frenetic ordalic race, rushing for the descent, consisting of a mountain path bristling with stones and brambles, then cross the river Vella and go back towards the village through a hard path that leads directly to the church of the Madonna di Loreto, which rises in the lower part of the beautiful historical center of Pacentro.
The church door is open, the altar practically constitutes the goal. The competitors, exhausted and in pain, with their feet literally broken and bleeding, receive the first treatment from a team of doctors and nurses. The winner receives a prize, which consists of a cut of cloth, a cup and a modest sum of money. It is carried in triumph on the shoulder between two wings of the crowd in the streets of the village, accompanied by the band. It all ends in front of the winner's house, where the parents offer wine, a sign of good wishes and prosperity. Anthropological considerations are different and complex. From a historical point of view, we are faced - probably - with the syncretism of two different religious themes. In fact, it has long been established that in the Peligna area, the rite of the race already in the Italic era, presented itself as an initiation rite, mainly linked to hunting, while in a play function, the race is perhaps linked to the military selection that developed in Roman times, the so-called juvenilia games, which were celebrated in honor of the local deities, established by the first Roman emperors.
Around these two historical themes, the Longobard presence is added later, which especially in Pacentro is attested by numerous toponyms: like the Ardinghi hill the cult of San Michel Arcangelo, protector of the Longobards, etc. However, it is not a matter of isolated cults, because in the Germanic race populations the theme of the race had its own specific importance, as also the Frazer.
Traces of these customs exist in the formation of the medieval liturgical drama, in the action that takes place within the churches, which overlaps, to replace it, the scenery of the churchyard, first, and the squares, afterwards.
The race, in fact, reappears in the sacred representations, received up to our days transfigured into Madonnas who flee into the square, not only in Sulmona but in less known centers, such as Corropoli (TE) and Introdacqua (AQ).
In the south the religious historical theme of the race is attested in different places, in San Sebastiano al Vesuvio, there are parallels and interpretations similar to the one that takes place in Pacentro, the route is less prohibitive, but always takes place barefoot and always in honor of the Patron Saint.