The original dedication of the month of May to the Virgin Mary in Italy can only be dated back to the mid-eighteenth century when it was first celebrated at Grezzano near Verona.
Certain it is, however, that by the nineteenth century May had become Mary’s special month throughout Italy and beyond, becoming officially dedicated to Jesus’ mother by Pope Paul VI in his 1965 encyclical, Mense Maio.
With its time-worn custom of syncretising pre-Christian rituals with ecclesiastical ones, Mary’s month clearly relates back to ancient Celtic customs such as the May Queen who rides in front of a May Day procession wearing a white gown, tiara and covered with flowers and who then initiates dancing around the Maypole – a custom that can even be found in parts of Italy such as Friuli and Marche (though not in Lucca province – perhaps someone should introduce it?)
Variants of this fertility-based, summer-welcoming custom were somewhat cruel. For example, in Christopher Lee’s cult movie “The Wicker Man”, recalling the May ritual, human sacrifice is involved.
At the chiesina of Longoio’s Mass in praise of the Virgin Mary last Saturday, and celebrated by Don Franco, the only sacrifice remembered was Christ’s during the Eucharist and it was just the altar which was covered with flowers, especially the white pure lily signifying the Angel’s annunciation to Mary that she would bear a son who would save the world.
Indeed, honouring Mary with flowers is first mentioned in the life of Saint Fiacre, the Irish patron saint of gardening.The saintly monk made a garden around a little church dedicated to Our Lady in the seventh century!
The chiesina has two beautiful picture of the Virgin. This year, apart from the seventeenth century masterpiece crowning the altar, the indefatigable Claudio found and cleaned up another,possibly early nineteenth century, painting lying forgotten in the back of the church and hung it most effectively so that everyone present could now see and admire it.
What better place, then, to celebrate the Marian month of May than in Longoio’s chiesina almost completely hidden in the forest and surrounded by wild flowers and the chirruping of birds?