Bonfires for the Saint


La Focara in Novoli

January 17th marks the celebration of Saint Anthony the Abbot throughout Italy. Also known as Saint Anthony the Great, he was born in Egypt and credited with being one of the founders of Christian Monasticism. He is the patron saint of animals and infectious diseases of the skin. He is often depicted with a pig in historic paintings and live re-enactments. The celebrations include ceremonies for blessing animals, enormous feasts, and tons of history.


In Abruzzo, the ritual feast called panarda is still alive in towns such as Villavallelonga and consists of 30-40 dishes, takes all night, and finishes early the next morning. What is the bonfire connection? It is thought that the bonfires were lit to encourage warmth for seeds to grow with spring being just around the corner; they are lit in church piazzas, at crossroads and scattered throughout towns. Here are three celebrations representing one each from the north, central and southern parts of Italy:

Saronno, Varese, Lombardia – Sant’Antonio di Saronno
If the name Saronno sounds familiar to you it may be because this is where the famed, Italian liqueur with an almond taste Amaretto di Saronno and Amaretti almond biscuits are produced. Saronno celebrates Saint Anthony two ways: with festival activities on the days leading up to the Saint’s day and a religious mass and feast on the actual Saint Anthony’s day, January 17th. The festival days include mixes of historical processions, folklore performances and typical food of the Lombardy region.


Le Farchie in Fara Filioruim Petri


Fara Filiorum Petri, Chieti, Abruzzo – Le Farchie

Fara Filiorium Petri is a long name for a small town of less than 2000 people. But on Saint Anthony’s day, their bonfire is anything but small. Fara Filiorum Petri began to prepare on the 6th of January when the bonfire materials were gathered from the fields for assembly. On the night of the 16th, the 60-foot tall columns of kindling are hoisted into place and remain there through the mass and processions on the following day until the bonfires are lit at 5:30 PM on January 22nd. The resultant effect is columns of fire lighting up the town center.


Novoli, Lecce, Puglia – Focara di Novoli
All the way down on the foot of the Italian peninsula, the town of Novoli celebrates their annual Focara di Novoli for almost the entire month of January. Musical activities and entertainment are spread throughout the month in different venues. At 65 feet wide and 82 feet tall, this may be one of the largest of its kind in Italy. The lighting of the Focara is followed by fireworks displays lighting up the night sky.

There are many more celebrations for Saint Anthony the Abbot throughout Italy. To locate one, search on “Sant’Antonio Abate” and the name of the Italian town, city or region and you can find a celebration to incorporate into your itinerary. Celebrations for this day often begin several days in advance.

Sant’Antonio di Saronno 
Le Farchie in Fara Filiorum Petri 
Focara di Novoli 


Lisa M. Vogele is the author of Food & Folklore: A Year of Italian Festivals, a travel reference guide that “helps you go local” by incorporating festivals into your travel planning. You can find out more information about Lisa’s books, custom itineraries and small group tours at Lisa’s Travel Guides.


La Focara in Novoli   ɯoop via / CC BY
Saint Anthony Procession in Saronno   Gruppo Storico Sant Antoni da Saronn
Saronno Piazza and Church of Saints Peter & Paul   Lisa M. Vogele
Le Farchie in Fara Filiorum Petri   Cristian Roberti via / CC BY-ND
Gathering Kindling in Novoli   Andreauuu via / CC BY-ND
Gathering Kindling in Novoli 2   Andreauuu via / CC BY-ND
Building the Focara   20centesimi via / CC BY-NC-SA
Lighting the Focara   ɯoop via / CC BY
Map by