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Routes > Folklore e Tradizioni > Per Comune > Isernia_Fiera delle Cipolle
Isernia_Fiera delle Cipolle

Source LA FIERA DELLE CIPOLLE – Un’antica tradizione isernina – Allium Cepa Project; coordinator Giulio Castiello, texts by Mauro Gioielli

Since remote epochs, important fairs have taken place in Isernia. Among the eldest ones there is the Nicandro and Marciano one, mentioned in a parchment containing some privileges granted, on the 19th of October 1254, to the town of Isernia by Ruggero, Count of Celano and Molise. Among these, there is the tax exemption for the participants of the fair. It faded away during the next centuries; it was re-established by royal decree of the 27th of July 1825 and then newly died away.
An important fair takes place on the 26th and 27th of September, on the occasion of the Saints Cosma and Diamano feast, already known in the 15th century but it was internationally renowned at the end of the eighteenth century because of the priapic cults that, according to William Hamilton, took place in the church of Isernia dedicated to the “Santi Medici”. Saints Cosma and Damiano fair was part of the “pardons” class.
A mercantile appointment, which now it doesn’t take place anymore but in the past enjoyed a quite good prestige, was Sant’Ippolito fair (12th and 13th of August).
The one correlated to San Pietro Celestino feast has still a regular execution (19th of May).

San Pietro fair
The most characteristic fair in Isernia is surely the one connected with the festivity of the Saints Pietro and Paolo, that is the “onions” fair, so called because the allium cepa L. – together with garlic (allium sativum L.) – has been the protagonist for centuries.
Luigi Vittorio Bertarelli, in 1926, wrote: “Every year, on the 28th and 29th of June (in Isernia), takes place (in the large square Erennio Ponzio) an important and characteristic fair called “San Pietro of the onions”, as it is a market of a large quantity of onions bulbs, presented to the buyers in heaps built with great patience. All the farmers of Isernia, Venafro and other neighbouring places flock to offer their goods. In the zone of Isernia, about 50 hectares are used for this cultivation and the total production is 3500-4000 quintals. The most cultivated variety is called red or San Pietro’s: these are round, squashed, copper or winey-red onions and have remarkable size (100 onions weigh 25 kg on average); there is also a subvariety, called majorina, which is earlier than the previous one. In the market of Isernia, there are also some white, grossiss and flat onions and some garlic”.

The origins
The fair of Isernia dedicated to the Apostle Peter is quite ancient. It is mentioned in one of the seventy-five Chapters of the Bagliva promulgated in 1487, but probably it has already been existing for centuries (in fact, these Chapters were the readaptation and reformulation of previous rules).
The fortieth Chapter, entitled Delli giorni franchi della fiera, mentions “the feast and fair of Saint Peter Apostle”.
Therefore, we know that this fair, at least since the 15th century, took place every year in Isernia; but we are not sure that it was already characterised by the distinguishing presence of the onions. These vegetables are mentioned in new Chapters, which are not numbered as added successively (in the period from the 18th of January 1539 to the 16th of October 1620). In fact, the rules codified in further Chapters provided a payment of 3 coins “for each onions remains” and that, to not damage the local producers, it was possible to forbid to foreign traders the sale of more foodstuffs, among which garlic and onions.

by Mauro Gioielli

Which is the connection among the onion and the Apostle Peter? Maybe the answer is in a legend of Isernia, with versions in other places.

One day, Saint Peter’s mother, an avaricious and bad woman, while she was washing in a brook some onions just picked, one fell from her hand and went away with the stream. A little farer, a poor, old woman managed to catch the vegetable and asked to Saint Peter’s mother if she could eat it as she was hungry. The woman, for the first time in her life, was caught by benevolence and nodded.
When Saint Peter’s mother died, she was sent to hell because of her avarice. She was discontented and irritated. So, she turned to her son. “Dear, they put me among the flames; it is a torment. Don’t leave your mum, take me to heaven”.
Saint Peter answered that he couldn’t: “What would the other souls say, mum?”
The woman kept calling and repeating to him to move her to heaven. So, to make stop that moan, Saint Peter decided to invoke Jesus to take her away from there.
“After all – the Saint said to the Lord – once she gave alms to a starved, old woman. She gave her an onion”.
Jesus was going to laugh, but to do Peter a kindness, he agreed to make her mother go out from hell. “If she was so charitable – Jesus answered ironically – make her hang by a string of onions and take her with you to heaven”.
After hanging her mother by the string, the saint made his way to heaven, but the other damned souls clung to the woman dress to make themselves safe. So, as she was bad, she screamed to part and kicked them, because she wanted to save herself alone. He screamed and fidgeted so much that the string broke up, making her fall again and definitely to hell.

(Fonte: LA FIERA DELLE CIPOLLE – Un’antica tradizione isernina – Progetto Allium Cepa; coordinatore Giulio Castiello, testi Mauro Gioielli)

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