Saint Rocco was born of noble parentage around 1340 A.D. in Montpellier, France. Left as an orphan at an early age he gave away all his possessions to help the sick and poor during the days of the plague in Europe. He eventually became ill himself and, after deciding to return to his hometown, he was imprisoned for espionage because nobody recognised him.
Saint Rocco Protector
Saint Rocco is venerated in the Roman Catholic Church as the protector against contagious diseases, including the plague The statue of Saint Rocco is considered unique among theologians because of his pose. It is most unusual because it depicts him with his left hand pointing to an open sore on his left leg. Few images of the Saints expose any afflictions or handicaps. His body is enclosed in a glass tomb in the Church of San Rocco in Venice, Italy. We commemorate the death of this great follower of Christ on 16th August, of each year.
Patron Saint of Molinara
San Rocco is the patron saint of the Italian town of Molinara, and the Molinaresi in Italy and Australia display a strong devotion to him. Historical documents do not indicate the exact time that San Rocco was adopted as the Patron Saint of this small town. A chapel was constructed and dedicated to this Saint, outside the historical center of Molinara during the 17th Century. The construction of the chapel was thought to have followed the devastating plague of 1656 and it is thought that San Rocco was adopted as the Patron Saint of Molinara, during this time. A romanesque style church was later constructed in Piazza San Rocco, but was destroyed by an earthquake in 1962. A new church was built to replace it, on the same ground. During August every year a week of festivities take place in Molinara and they culminate on the 16th August, the feast day of San Rocco.
In the Beginning
San Rocco’s feast day is August 16th and in Molinara the religious ceremonies and social festivities take place over several days. Gradually the Molinarese community transferred these traditions to Adelaide.
The First Gathering
On 16th August 1955 a small group of migrants from Molinara, went to the church of St Francis of Assisi, instead of going to work. Here they asked the then Franciscan father, Nicola Simonazzi, if he could celebrate Holy Mass for them in honour of their Patron Saint, San Rocco, on this his feast day. The father was happy to oblige and he accepted an invitation to share a meal with them in their home which housed many migrants. The celebration continued well into the night. When the celebration ended Father Nicola addressed the group “Dear brothers and sisters united together today we have honoured San Rocco with true spiritual faith, without great fanfare but with great devotion we have celebrated and honoured him – and I bless you in the name of God and in the name of your patron saint, San Rocco.” The group of migrants that had gathered were happy as they had honoured their Patron Saint even though they were thousands of miles from their homeland.
Without realising it the group of migrants that gathered on that day in 1955 had taken a small step in transferring and reproducing the San Rocco traditions from Molinara to Adelaide.
The Statue Arrives
The following year even more people participated in the gathering on 16th August, which was celebrated with simplicity and in the same manner as the preceding year.
Then, in 1957, all the Molinaresi in Adelaide united and within a short while they had obtained a statue of their saint from Italy. The statue had been sculpted in wood by the renowned artist Vincenzo Moroder. Today the statue can be found in the St Francis of Assisi Church at Newton.
With the arrival of the statue, the community started the tradition of the ‘Procession’. In Italy the statue of the saint would be processed through the village, on his feast day.
The procession would take many forms in Adelaide. Originally the procession started at Findon and processed through the city to the St Francis of Assisi Church, Newton.
This was to cater for the two groups of the Molinarese community that had settled in Findon and in Campbelltown. In more recent times, the procession takes place through the streets of Newton or around the grounds of the church.
La Mattinata is held in Molinara at midnight, the night before the feast day of San Rocco.The crowds gather with a town crier and band and they process through the town. They stop in front of people’s homes and call the family by name and invite them to come to the feast. This is followed by a familiar tune played by the band. The Mattinata has been replicated in Adelaide with the President of San Rocco processing around the church accompanied by a band and a crowd of devotees inviting people from different suburbs in Adelaide to come to the feast of San Rocco the following day.
The Feast Day
San Rocco’s Feast Day falls on 16th August, in Italy this is the
day that it is celebrated. In Adelaide a special Mass is held in his honour, on the Sunday closest to 16th August. For many years the actual Feast Day celebrations were held the first Sunday in January to coincide with holidays and summer weather. This decision was made as the feast day in Italy occurs in summer. The Feast Day starts with the procession, mass and then the entertainment takes place which includes eating, drinking, music and dancing. The Saint is also draped in gold, which has been donated to San Rocco by devotees who feel he has helped them in some way.
Special Guests from Molinara
In 2005 the Mayor of Molinara, Maria Cirocco, and her entourage, which included the Molinara Band, came to Adelaide to take part in the San Rocco Festa. They were hosted by different family and friends in Adelaide. They were quite overwhelmed to see their religious tradition alive in Adelaide. They were also amazed to be part of an Italian community that had remained connected to the traditions from their homeland but a group that was also very well assimilated in their new home. Later that year the President of San Rocco, Cosimo Cirocco visited Molinara. He was also given a special reception and joined the town crier in conducting La Mattinata.
In 2007 the Adelaide community celebrated 50 years of San Rocco in Adelaide. A bigger than average feast was held and the Molinara Band returned to Adelaide. The Band was also accompanied by the Priest from Molinara Don Sergio Ingegno who conducted the triduum (liturgies in honour of San Rocco) the week before the Feast and Mass on the feast day.
Don Sergio was pleased to find a little Molinara alive and well in Adelaide. He was impressed with our lifestyle in Adelaide and at the fact that we have so many religious faiths that all coexist happily.
The traditions of our forefathers that have been carried across the seas and recreated in Adelaide give younger generations an understanding of our rich history and where we have come from. These traditions also contribute to our sense of identity, that we are Australian with a strong Italian heritage that makes us uniquely who we are.
The question for future generations is how to preserve the traditions that our ancestors bought with them many years ago and, at the same time, how to continue to make them relevant to future generations of Italo-Australians.
In the light of the pandemic which has just swept the world, health workers have offered their skills and care to covid patients, just as San Rocco offered healing to those stricken by the bubonic plague during the Renaissance.