Every year in Fermo, in the evening of the Eve of the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, a historical pageant is held: the Cavalcata dell’Assunta. The Cult of the Virgin Mary has very ancient origins, if you consider that in the V century on the Girfalco already rose up the first cathedral dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, “Santa Maria in Castello”. The first written documents referring to the Feast of the Virgin Mary, patron saint of the city and the diocese, although without any detail on how it was celebrated, date back to year 1000. In a document dated 1182, Monterubbiano, Cuccure and Montotto, the nearby castles which were independent but still under the protectorate of Fermo, reaffirmed their commitment to bring a Palio to Fermo every year, on the occasion of the Feast of the Virgin Mary. The first description of the Cavalcata dates back to the years between 1382-83, when the Municipality approved the «Statuta Firmanorum» (a collection of rules settling the city life), come to us through the reprints of 1507 and 1589. But the most significant document concerning the Cavalcata is the “Pagina Miniata” (Miniated Page), made in 1436 by Giovanni di maestro Ugolino da Milano, contained in the «Missale De Firmonibus», preserved in the Diocesan Museum in Fermo. It shows a visual representation, an image of the Cavalcata, as it was a picture taken at that period. After the Statutes and the “Pagina Miniata” (Miniated Page), there are many Orders of the pageant – the most ancient of which dates back to 1638 – attesting the composition of the parade. The Cavalcata dell’Assunta was the processional parade where all the main participants marched on horseback by candle and torch lights – and for this reason it was also called “Luminaria”. In the evening of the 14th August, on the eve of the Feast, it left from the Church of Saint Lucy, in the western part of the city, and it went along the Corso, paused in Piazza Grande, until it arrived to the Cathedral to offer the traditional candles and gifts to the Heavenly Patron. The pageant was composed of all the Municipal Authorities: the Podestà, the Captain of the People, the Signifier of Justice and the Priors of the Contrade (or city wards) in which Fermo had been divided since 1251 (Castello, Pila, Campolege, San Bartolomeo, Fiorenza and San Martino). They were followed by the Delegates of the Castles of the country district and by the Representatives of the Craft-Guilds, both artisan and professional. The guilds of Muleteers and Carriers were bound to offer a cart of bricks and squared stones, a “salma”, the Hosts and Innkeepers contributed with a wooden model of a “taberna”, full of groceries, while the Fishermen from the Port marched bringing a boat. All the participants in the pageant showed their richest and most sumptuous cloaks. The parade passed among the acclaiming crowd, preceded by joyful children, the blare of the clarions, the drum rolls and the pealing of all the bells of the city. The Cavalcata represented not only an evidence of the cult of the Heavenly Patron, but also a magnificent display of the power and wealth of the old State of Fermo which, on this occasion, collected most of the rents and duties. In the morning of 15 August, ‘de mane ante prandium’, the “Corso del Palio” or “Palio dei Corsieri” or “Corso dei Bàrberi” was run. The winner was awarded a “palium bellum et bonum”, a drape of exquisite workmanship. The race ran through the street “via maris”, from outside the Porta San Francesco, the eastern part of the city, until the Cathedral. The Solemn Pontifical Mass came soon after. In the afternoon, the quintain (‘hastidilium’) and the game of bulls (‘ludus tauri’) were held. THE CAVALCATA DELL’ASSUNTA TODAY Today, in addition to the six “historical” Contrade of the city of Fermo, there are other 4 Contrade, called “foranee” or outsiders, because they are located outside the city walls: Torre di Palme, Capodarco, Campiglione and Molini Girola.
In 1436, Giovanni di mastro Ugolino da Milano, living in Fermo at Contrada San Bartolomeo, writes with his own hand the Pagina Miniata (Miniated Page) of the Missal de Firmonibus with the representation of the Cavalcata in honor of the Virgin Mary, with the unequivocal aim of glorifying the patron saint of Fermo in the day of her feast. Experiencing this important moment during a summer in the late Middle-Ages, he stares at the joy of people, hears the music of the bagpipes and the dangling rhythm of the drums, he is bewildered by the persisting ringing of the bells of the Santa Maria in Castello: the overwhelming multitude of people pushes towards the Girfalco the glory and the faith, the pride and the humility of the city united in the maternal and protective embrace of the Virgin. When the visual memory of those distant events is added to the epic memory through a real snapshot, although fixed on a frame of that time, that is on a scroll, so the effort of those who wear ancient costumes takes a larger meaning. So, the historical reenactment becomes a real re-living, a striking reappearance. The slight impression of regret caused by memories must become more joyfully medieval. That bittersweet mix of sacred and profane which seals the Pagina Miniata (Miniated Page) of the Missal de Firmonibus leaves us astonished, but at the same time fascinated by an undeniable truth. The strength of those miniatures brings us back to impulsive behaviors, noisy uproars, uncontrollable happiness of both poor and notable people. Our wise master Vanni captured all this, so that memory never dies, but renew itself year after year through the hard work of the Council of Selection and of the Contrade which are always occupied to keep the spirit of the Cavalcata always alive.