We knew it was a popular festival and that it was going to be crowded. So we set out early from our guest house near Oristano for the 45 minute drive to Sedilo. Even so, it was already filling up when we got there. We got as close as we could to drop off the members of our party less able to hike from remote parking. But that hike for the rest of us was pleasant for the scenery and people watching. When we got to the Sanctuario di San Costantino the hillside sloping down from the imposing cross was well populated, as were the walls and other choice seating areas. Our group congregated just inside the main gate where we saw a wide variety of local officials, Sardinian natives and more than a smattering of tourists.
Note: This post is one of an on-going series focusing on my own personal experiences visiting interesting places and events throughout Europe. A full list of blog posts can be found on the “Peppy’s Blog” drop down menu. All of the photos in this post were taken by me. I have referred to several websites for background information shared here. Those websites are listed below the photo gallery at the end.
The L’Ardia di San Costantino Festival takes place each year on the 6th and 7th of July, at the Sanctuario di San Costantino, near Sedila in central Sardinia. The festival commemorates Constantine’s victory over Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge in 312. Historians and legends tell us several things about the battle at this key bridge over the Tiber near Rome. Constantine is said to have been inspired by a vision of a flaming cross inscribed with the words in hoc signo vinces — “In this sign thou shall conquer.” Constantine’s victory ended the tetrachracy — a power sharing form of government created by Roman Emperor Diocletian in 293, to end the Crisis of the Third Century and the recovery of the Roman Empire. Soon thereafter his victory at the Milvian Bridge, Constantine became the sole ruler of the Roman Empire. Meanwhile Maxentius is said to have drowned in the Tiber during the battle but his body was dragged from the river. The victors separated his head from his body and paraded it through the streets of Rome the next day. These events are said to mark the passing of the Roman Empire out of paganism and into Christianity.
The highlight of the festival is of course, the wild horse race. that follows a set procedure. The horses and riders are all blessed by the local priest the night before the race. On the day of the race, as the crowds craned and swayed in anxious anticipation, local townsmen wielding shotguns further stirred up the crowds (and a fair amount of dust), firing into the ground as they walked up to and through the gate to the grounds of the sanctuary. (See the featured image above). They were followed by an ensemble of musicians playing baroque melodies. The scene was festive indeed.
And then all of a sudden they came, charging up the lane heading through the gate. Leading the charge is the sa prima pandela (capocorsa) leader of the race, representing Constantine, with the secondo e terzo pandelas close behind, and three escorts, each carrying banners rolled up on short poles, short but long enough to defend against the horde of riders — 80 to 90 in number, charging up from behind. These first 6 riders represent the army of Constantine, while the large pack behind them represents the pagan army of Maxentius.
The entry through the gate by these horseman was gripping; spectacular. I was grateful for my vantage point which allowed the capture of some great action photos shown here, but I must say my life passed through my eyes as they were close enough to reach out and touch.
The riders streamed up and around the sanctuary church where they stopped and then circled around it, seven times, each time getting blessed by the priest. However, on the sixth pass, the rider representing Constantine bolted away from the rest, and charged down to the dry fountain below, that marks the finish line. Constantine’s win represents assurance that Christianity will prevail, at least for another year.
The race is followed by revelry, food and drink on the sanctuary grounds. We chose to head back to the guest house to recover from all the excitement and engage in our own family revelry.
Click on any image in the gallery below to enlarge it and/or start a slide show. Blog references are included below the gallery.