Experiences of a lifetime don’t come along very often. So when I received an invitation from a neighbour, Anna Costantini, to participate in Cortona’s Medieval Archidado festival, it was an exciting moment. The way I saw it, I already get a chance to live among Cortona’s preserved architectural and artistic history. This time, I saw it as a great opportunity to experience its social and religious traditions through a re-enactment of important events held by (who would have been) Cortona’s 14th century families.
And so it was that a friend who also has the privilege of living in this town, took up the invitation along with me. So we began our discovery of Cortona’s historic social fabric by selecting the appropriate dresses to fit a time almost 700 years gone by.
This is how our journey to the past started.
I was fitted with a lavish, very heavy and very green velvet dress, a matching head band, period shoes, and all the instructions necessary to show up for upcoming May and June events. Most special, was the feeling of having been invited to experience something so reminiscent of celebrations during medieval central Italy, which have always been of particular interest to me.
But what were my friend and I to do while wearing these lavish dresses, along with the instructions that came with them? That part was still a mystery. We were new to this. And let’s just say, that we were about to learn by doing.
The first event took place at Chiesa dello Santo Spirito, and it was there, that we first found ourselves among our medieval neighbours - the families, priests, archers and the young flag bearers of San Vincenzo. Each of us showed up for church appropriately dressed for a Catholic mass dedicated to Cortona’s patron saint, Santa Margherita. The priest offered a benedizione and then, an offering of wax was made at the sacred altar in Santo Spirito church by community members, who by the way, I imagined having known intimately while discussing our town's on-going developments on a daily basis.
The church gathering was followed by another event a few days later. Our velvet dresses, and our new identity, went back on with great anticipation of San Vincenzo’s community procession to Piazza del Comune. We were told to prepare for a large gathering among members of Cortona’s other neighborhoods to witness a celebration involving flag throwers and drummers.
This event got off to a rocky start for my friend and me. We had gotten our instructions wrong and ended up having to confirm our neighbourhood’s meeting place by “texting” Anna. Some things can’t be helped. Luckily, Anna had her smart phone handy, so she guided us to our meeting destination while showing remarkable patience. Anna is one of the organizers of our neighbourhood’s events. She has a lively and friendly personality and an important social role. And she obviously does an outstanding job arranging the celebratory needs of Cortona’s ‘Old World’ families.
And so it was that on May 21, 2022, we immersed ourselves, once again, in the atmosphere of the year 1397. This time we took part in a procession from Via Guelfa to Piazza del Comune, guided by our street’s hanging flags, the sound of our drums, and our neighbourhood’s children and their parents and grandparents.
No doubt we looked the part and took our roles seriously. As for me, I ‘felt’ the part. I think this had to do with several conditions merging together in perfect synchronicity.
Maybe it had to do with my green velvet dress and pearl studded headband and veil. Or, perhaps it’s my admiration and belief in the preservation of one’s story and traditions. Who knows. All I know for sure, is that my return to the past became much more meaningful when playing a role in a town whose architecture has managed to preserve its beauty and historical integrity. This helped to reaffirm a well-tested educational theory of mine. I believe that to learn something for life, it has to speak ‘through’ you and not just ‘to’ you. In other words, you have to “feel” it to learn it.
With friend Christine Douglas and Anna Costantini
So thank you Anna, for helping Cortona re-live its magnificent traditions, and for inviting my friend and me to experience a piece of its colourful and unforgettable history.
Christine and myself
Fortunately, the celebrations continue.