Those of you that pay attention to the Categories and Tags may notice that this is listed under “Christmas”, “Christmas Tree”, and “Christmas Decorations”. A Snail and a Crested Porcupine – what do they have to do with Christmas? Traditionally? Nothing! But in our house they are linked with a trip to Siena back in 2011 and two ceramic ornaments that were added to our Christmas trove on that trip.
A bit of background would probably help. The city of Siena is divided into Contrade; the nearest concept in English would be wards. Set up in the Middle Ages they were initially military enclaves during the wars with Florence and other city states. Over time they lost that aspect but became centres of fierce patriotism to a community. Rivalries and alliances were formed – think Verona, Montagues, Capulets – and each Contrade became almost a city unto itself. There were originally 59 but today amalgamation and urban change has reduced the number to 17. However each Contrade has retained its own animal symbol, motto, and colours; not only that every Contrade has its own museum, fountain and baptismal font, feast days and festivals. They are tightly knit communities within the larger city and only come together for grand occasions or, more importantly the Palio di Siena.
The ornaments we purchased bear the colours and symbols of two of the Contrade: Chiocciola (Snail) and Istrice (Crested Porcupine). I should add this was not because of any allegiance on our part but purely because I liked the designs.
Chiocciola is situated in the south-western corner of the city; traditionally, its residents worked as terracotta makers.
Their symbol is the snail and the motto translates as “With slow and deliberate steps, snail leaves the battlefield triumphant.” Their colours are red and yellow, trimmed in blue.
There is an expression in Siena, “The people of the Snail drown their saints.” In 1888, after losing a Palio, the people of the Contrada was so angry that they threw a statue of Saint Anthony (patron saint of horses) into a well. The statue wasn’t removed until 1910 and miraculously the district won in 1911. Saint Anthony hasn’t exactly been on their side recently – they last won the race in 1999.
Istrice occupies the north-western most edge of Siena and contains the San Vincenzo e Anastasio church, home of the city’s oldest surviving fresco. By tradition its residents were blacksmiths.
Their symbol is a porcupine and their colours are red, white, blue and black. The motto is Sol per difesa io pungo (I prick only in self-defense). The porcupine is “crested” with a crown award
During th 14th century the community gave quartering to the Knights of Malta and were awarded the title Sovrana which earned their porcupine his crest or crown. They last won the Palio in July 2008.
I mentioned that all the Contrade congregate on special occasions and on one of the days we were there an important canonization was taking place in Rome. I captured some of the medieval pageantry as we walked towards the Cathedral Square and as the standards of each Contrade were being carried into the church. I apologize for the quality but I was – and am – still learning how to use and make videos.
As I have often mentioned the ornaments on our tree bring back wonderful memories of voyages, homes, place and people. It is a tree of memories.
On this day in 1971: Norma McCorvey (Jane Roe) filled a law suit against Henry Wade, Dallas county attorney, in the Roe v. Wade case.