05 – Study Centre

Alfonso Maria di Nola in Cocullo

Because of the prestige that the Festa di San Domenico (Feast of San Domenico) and the associated Rito dei Serpari (Snake Ritual) have gained over the years, and because of the attention that this celebration has received from eminent scholars in Italy and other European countries, Cocullo has set itself the goal of becoming a hub for the study of Abruzzo’s folk traditions. One scholar who regularly attended the annual event was Alfonso M. di Nola, a noted anthropologist who was made an honorary citizen of Cocullo for his commitment and the studies that he dedicated to the tradition and the town that hosted him. Professor Di Nola died a few months before the 1997 celebration. That year the town, in conjunction with a group of experts led by Professor Emiliano Giancristofaro and Professor Ireneo Bellotta, decided to set up a Centro Studi e Documentazione per le Tradizioni Popolari (Centre for the Study and Documentation of Folk Traditions). Since then, the Centre has become a focal point for the study of cultural anthropology and folk traditions. Today, Cocullo hosts conferences attended by leading international experts, and is visited by specialists, interested amateurs and students wishing to explore the wide array of paper, video and digital resources available at the Centre.

Alfonso Maria di Nola

The Centre, which is located in the same building as the municipal offices, also offers an education and information program for school groups and visitors. One of its aims is to spotlight issues relating to man’s relationship with nature, including the need to produce renewable energy and adopt lifestyles that are not detrimental to the environment. The program fosters an awareness of the area’s natural habitats, and promotes the conservation of local flora and fauna. One wing of the building houses a multimedia exhibit. The Centre has sponsored the publication of scientific studies and other informational material on the festival, thereby making it better known among scholars and the public at large. It includes an extensive library containing information on the most important festivals in Abruzzo and elsewhere. These events, which celebrate the region’s history, religion and folklore, attract hundreds of thousands of visitors to Abruzzo each year.

ancient map kept at the town hall

The library holdings and other documentation are catalogued and updated regularly by members of the Associazione Culturale Alfonso M. di Nola, which was founded in Cocullo in 2009. Members of the scientific committee are on hand to explain the main aspects of the various traditions. The building also houses the Museo Multimediale di Documentazione per le Tradizioni Popolari (Multimedia Museum for the Documentation of Folk Traditions). Together, the Centre and the Museum constitute a complex, multifaceted project designed to give meaning to the history and traditions of many communities in central Abruzzo, and to ensure their relevance now and in the future. Over the course of a year, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people are involved in organizing the numerous events that make up the vast and complex panoply of folk traditions. These traditions are central to the lives of the communities that host them. They also have considerable economic value: they are a source of income for the numerous vendors who travel from festival to festival; they enable local artisans to showcase their products; and they attract large numbers of visitors who will return as tourists once they have seen the beauty of these areas.

seventeenth century parchment kept at the town hall

What the Centre and the Museum aspire to do is to use the Feast of San Domenico, the most famous of these annual festivals, to make us see folk traditions in a new light – not as phenomena disconnected from the world of today, but as a constant source of enrichment in our lives. The aim is to introduce modern elements into these traditions, but do so in a respectful manner, without impinging on their spontaneity and authenticity.

The Centre was designed to be used year-round: it could be visited by groups of schoolchildren who, as part of an extracurricular program, could examine and consult first-hand a variety of documents that would introduce them to the world of folk traditions; it could host practicums for university students; and it could provide experts from inside and outside the country with opportunities to share their views on the subject. In other words, it could play a key role in the cultural life of Abruzzo by illuminating a subject fundamental to its history and identity.

Location and resources available

The Centre is located in the town hall building, on Cocullo’s main square. It has the following resources:

  • a multimedia exhibit on the Snake Ritual and the Feast of San Domenico;
  • a library specializing in cultural anthropology studies on the Snake Ritual and Abruzzo’s other folk traditions; its holdings include the collected works of Professor Alfonso M. di Nola and papers written by his students;
  • volumes published under the auspices of the Centre;
  • the proceedings of conferences organized by the Centre from 1997 to the present;
  • a collection of articles on the festival published by newspapers in Europe and around the world;
  • television documentaries on the festival produced by broadcasters in Abruzzo, Italy and Europe;
  • an animated exhibit showing the principal characteristics of the snakes that populate Cocullo’s countryside;
  • an archive of folk traditions; and
  • an archive of historical documents that provide a record of events in Cocullo over the centuries.

Visitors have access to the following:

  • a conference room;
  • a multimedia room, including a computer, a projector and other equipment;
  • a digital catalogue of library holdings;
  • staff members who can provide them with a guided tour; and
  • experts in cultural anthropology and folk traditions who regularly conduct seminars on request.