On the occasion of St. Joseph feast on March 19, in Salento, the south-eastern extremity of the Apulia region, takes place an extremely particular folk tradition of uncertain origins that is believed to have originated in the middle ages. It’s called “St. Joseph Table” and there are those who recall the custom to local nobles who offered a rich banquet for the poor once a year. Others believe that it is of Byzantine origin, which relates to the distribution of food to the needy, the tradition revived later by St. Joseph’s confraternity, who distributed food to the poor on the occasion of the Saint feast. If the origins are uncertain, one thing for certain is that the usage has come down to us and continues to perpetuate every year in such localities as Minervino, Cocumola, Uggiano La Chiesa, Vignacastrisi and Giurdignano.
St. Joseph’s Table is the table full of eats laden with devotion in the homes of people who were pardoned by St. Joseph and with this sort of votive intend to thank the Saint for everything that they received. Otherwise the Table can be laden by people who hope in St. Joseph’s intercession for a future event that they hope will be fulfilled.
The householder plays the part of St. Joseph and at the Table take their sit, in odd numbers, relatives, native people or guests, invited to participate in the meal, all of them joined to impersonate the Holy Family and the Ten Saints. Nine traditional Salentine dishes are served on the table set with white embroidered tablecloths and lilies, and to each of the dishes is attributed a strong symbolic value: pasta and chickpeas (“massa” in dialect) represents the colours of narcissus, which bloom is a symbol of spring. Onions in oil and pickled onions symbolise the end of winter and the transition to the new season of rebirth, fried fish revokes Joseph’s bond with Jesus, cauliflower symbolises St. Joseph’s stick, “ncartiddate”, typical Salentine sweets with honey, represent the bands that wrapped the Child Jesus, and stockfish stew reminds that once it was the food of big festive occasions. A place of honour is assigned to the loaves of bread, shaped like large Donuts each of 3 or 5 pounds that were previously prepared and cooked in a ritual that has to meet very specific rules.
The way in which the servings are consumed is very particular: St. Joseph takes the top of the Table, gripping the stick. On its sides, dressed in simple everyday manner, are Maria, Jesus and ten Saints: Saint Anne, Saint Elizabeth, St. Zechariah, St. Joachim, St. Philip, St. John, Saint Mary of Clopas, St. Agnes and St. Joseph of Arimathea. St. Joseph begins the meal, he tastes the dishes and twice beats the ground indicating the other diners to terminate or proceed to another course. All the while they recite prayers.
The Table is laid in the evening prior to the feast day and, when it is ready, the priest is welcomed to give his blessings. After that the houses open their doors to anyone who would like to enter: there starts a long procession that goes on until the night because all the village, from children to the elderly, as well as tourists and curious ones, visit the Table in a kind of collective pilgrimage that looks almost like visits to Easter sepulchres. The next morning the diners go to church for confession and after mass St. Joseph begins the meal, followed by the other diners who taste and pray in accordance to the rite described above.
On March 19, this year even on the 18th that falls on a Sunday, as a sign of devotion to St. Joseph in the main square of the villages where this ancient rite takes place, the municipal administration will set up a 40-metre long table for the Holy Family and the ten Saints to sit at.
You are welcome to apply as a candidate for impersonation of any character.
Info: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.vignacastrisi.it