The festival of San Gottardo di Spriana

by Saveria Masa

La statua di San Gottardo nella chiesa parrocchiale di Spriana The statue of San Gottardo in the parish church of Spriana.

The festival of Spriana is celebrated on 4 May, the day of San Gottardo, the village patron saint. The ancient church dedicated to the saint was built during the second half of the 15th century and it is believed that the tradition to hold a trade fair to celebrate the patron saint dates back to that period. Not by chance is San Gottardo the patron saint of tradesmen and the fair in Spriana was well-known throughout the Valtellina as mainly a fair of craftwork.
As was the custom at the time, the festival of the patron saint in Spriana was preceded by three days of the sound of the village bells sweeping across the valley, as they did at Christmas time. On the day of San Gottardo a "High Mass" was celebrated and sung by several priests, followed by a procession with the monks and nuns, starting from the parish church as far as the small church of the Madonna della Speranza. It then returned along the path behind the church. During the procession, the statue of San Gottardo is traditionally carried by the men. The women used to carry the simulacrum of the Madonna during the procession on August 15th.
For the festival of their patron saint in Spriana, all the people in the valley and in the Valtellina came to see San Gottardo, who was also protector of bones, so they prayed for his protection against rheumatism, and asked to be cured or at least to improve.

In the village of Spriana they produced the baskets carried on the back (campac'), rakes, clogs and small baskets (cavagn) used by the travelling salesmen. There was also a shoemaker (scarpuliñ), who lived by making and mending a bit of everything to survive.
The products were sold at the fair of San Gottardo, together with those of the travelling salesmen from the valley and from outside. The Bardea, for example, known as “Patarela”, from Lanzada, sold “scampoi” (remnants) of fabric. "My father, Pietro - recalls Silvio Gaggi - always sold his pots, as this was considered to be the most profitable fair of the year".
The biggest attraction for the children was the umbrella of the raffle “the raffle, the raffle of the trams, you always win and never lose”, to win that tiny gift, the most desirable, the pink sugary pipe, the "sweet pipes of San Gottardo". They were also attracted to the stall selling the “os de mort” (biscuits called "bones to bite", as they were so hard to chew). For the youngest and luckiest there was also the ice-cream cart. A true delicacy.
The children used to prepare some fruit with tiny pine twigs or little brooms (i scuèt) to sell in order to earn something.
A photographer often turned up at the fair with his camera obcura wrapped in a black cloth to take photos for identity cards and family photos. The children loved to play tricks and pose for a photograph and spend a special, joyful day full of fun.
The festival ended in the Varisto inn with lively dancing way into the night accompanied by music from the "upright" piano.

(Stories collected by Silvio Gaggi and Sara Scuffi)