Today, 29 January, is the festa of Perugia’s patron saint, San Constanzo. There is no school (and no soccer practice!), but the rest of the city is open, especially the bakeries, which spent the night making “Il Torcolo” – a special pastry made only once a year. San Constanzo, who lived during the II century CE, was the first bishop of Perugia. On 29 January 175 CE, during the prosecution of Christians under Marcus Aurelius, Constanzo became a martyr when he was beheaded by Roman soldiers near Foligno. The Romans took his head to the Emperor, while his followers carried his body back to Perugia. They had to travel through the woods and across fields. Along the way, many (unspecified) miracles occurred. They buried his body by the small hut in which he lived, outside the gates of city, not far from the site of the first Christian church in Perugia, San Pietro. In the 13th century, a church was built on the site.
Although there are four patron saints of Perugia, today San Constanzo is the only one to have his own holiday.
This morning we got up and headed to our favorite Bar/Pasticceria, Dell’Accademia, to find “Il Torcolo.” The window was full of this ring-shaped treat:
Il Torcolo is really more of a bread than a cake. It is made from a yeast egg dough that is filled with raisins, candied fruit (but not so much as to be unbearable), and pine nuts. It has a slight anise flavor. How the shape of the bread and the fruits/nuts are connected to San Constanzo is a matter of some debate. Some say that it represents the headless neck of San Constanza, others that it is his necklace (with the fruits representing gems) which fell from his neck when he was beheaded, and finally others say that the shape is simply convenient for stacking on a stick and carrying the torcolo to the festival. The other distinct feature of Il Torcolo is the deep grooves cut into the top before baking. These are supposed to form a pentagon and are thought the represent the five “Rione,” or districts of the city: Porta Sole, Porta San Pietro, Porta Susanna, Porta Eburnea, and Porta Sant’Angelo. Our Torcolo had only four grooves in the top (we did ask for a small one):
It still tasted nice, though:
The actual celebration of San Constanzo is concentrated in the Borgo XX Giugno region of Perugia. This neighborhood stretches from the Porta di San Pietro, one of the Medieval gates of Perugia, to the Porta of San Constanzo, which leads to his church. We did not arrive early enough for services, but the street fair/market was in full swing:
Between the two gates is the Church of San Pietro, the site of the first Christian church in Perugia and where Constanzo met with his followers. Recent excavations under the central basilica of the current church of San Pietro have revealed evidence of the original II century church (another site we will have to visit soon).
At the heart of the market, alongside the church, was a monument to another group of ‘martyred’ Perugians. During the Second War of Independence, the Perugians resisted the domination of Pope Pio IX (Perugia has a history of rebellion against the papacy). He decided to make an example of the city. On the 20 June 1859, 2,000 papal troops (mostly Swiss) attacked the poorly armed and organized Perugians. The fighting took place around the Porta San Pietro. After putting down the rebellion, the papal troops sacked the city and massacred hundreds of citizens. The monument was erected in 1909.
We will have to wait until June to learn how Perugia commemorates those mayrtyrs.