It is still very hot, but fortunately today it is “almost” all in a flat terrain. I cycle along an internal road that for a while runs parallel to the 131DCN and then crosses the Tirso river to climb towards Sedilo with a nice winding climb.
I enter the village and head to the Horo Brewery, in a small street in the centre, where the owner Sergio is waiting for me. He will feed me and give accommodation, as well as delicious craft beer for the day, even if he can’t stay go around with me.
The first stop is at the archaeological museum where Nicola, a geologist like me, welcomes me and shows me a whole series of finds from the countless sites of this territory: the necropolis with “domus de janas” of Ispiluncas, the pre-nuragic village of Serra Linta now submerged by the Omodeo Lake, the Nuragic village of Iloi and the Roman necropolis of Bonaera.
We head to one of the most iconic places on the island, the sanctuary of San Costantino. After passing “s’arcu ‘e linna”, the famous arch under which the horses and riders pass during S’Ardia, the celebrations for the saint. We enter the square surrounded by the muristenes, the houses where you can stay for the days of celebration. Here is the sanctuary, of pink trachyte and black basalt, on a steep ground supported by a stone buttress.
I am not surprised when Nicola tells me that once there was a nuragic settlement here. The places of worship have remained the same for millennia, only the object of worship has changed. And inside the sanctuary, all the devotion of the faithful is widely visible in the ex-votos hanging on the walls and columns.
I thank Nicola and return to the village, where a good lunch awaits me at the Horo Brewery, located in an old restaurant that in the past, since the early 1900s, housed a tavern, later a wine shop and finally a historic “tzillèri” (a typical drinking place). Having lived in England for many years, I am used to Ale, IPA and other types of beer, but finding these varieties produced in Sardinia is a surprise. Along with my lunch I enjoy a light craft beer, unpasteurized, non-microfiltered and without the addition of carbon dioxide, additives and preservatives.
In the afternoon I rest at the Catedda B&B, a house renovated in accordance with the local architectural tradition, which once belonged to Catedda, Sergio’s grandmother. After the afternoon heat, I take my bike to go and visit the archaeological site of Iloi. Pedaling through the countryside I pass sun-scorched fields where some horses proudly show their tense muscles.
I arrive at the site, where there is a beautiful nuraghe surrounded by the remains of the village. Not far from here, I reach the beautiful tomb of the giants, whose exedra seems to embrace the view of Lake Omodeo, although at the time of the nuragics there was a wide valley instead of the lake. I remain to contemplate the light that falls all around.
I decide to quickly return to the sanctuary of San Costantino because the strong morning light prevented me from taking decent photos, and I’m lucky. The sun is setting and gives this place unique colors. Back in the village, I wander around by bike among buildings in very dark basalt to reach the beautiful Piazza del Comune which also includes the parish church of San Giovanni Battista in red trachyte and the little church of the souls.
On my way back to the b&b Catedda, I cross paths with kids riding two donkeys in the main street of the village. I follow them, I pass them and greet them and they give me a big smile and return the greeting. Who knows if this is nothing more than a training for the race at the sanctuary.
SARDINIAN SHORT STORIES
At the archaeological museum Nicola asks my name. When I tell him my name and surname he widens his eyes as if he has seen a ghost. He tells me that one of the most beautiful articles he has read on Sedilo’s Ardia is written by “a Sebastiano Dessanay” whom he believed was dead. So I explain to him that it was my grandfather.
PS It is only at the end of the trip that I am able to find that article, published in issue 8 of the magazine Sardegna Oggi from 1962, a magazine that my granddad himself founded.
Here are some interesting parts:
“What interests me at the moment is to critically consider some popular events that take place during the celebration of the Sedilo celebrations. The first observation that can be made is that if at all they are almost entirely identical to those of the popular celebrations in Greece and Middle East. Here too, as in Sardinia, a large number of faithful settle in the church enclosure to spend the night singing sacred hymns mixed with profane songs, dancing and feasting.”
“Until a few years ago these banquets were very common and were done at the expense of the local community. Anyone coming from the most diverse corners of the country or from the most distant villages could have full rights to sit at the common table.”
“Another interesting manifestation is what is commonly called the panegyric, which constitutes, in Sardinia as in Greece and Middle East, the epic of the saint. It consists of the sermon given by the preacher and the chanting of the gosos, almost as an illustration of the sermon, as it enumerates the acts, the res gestae of the saint, as was done for the ancient heroes of Greece. The performance has a responsorial character: usually a soloist sings the res gestae, while all the faithful respond in chorus with the prepared refrain. The singing is accompanied by the music of the launeddas.”
“But the most famous event of the feast of S. Costantino is the one called Ardia or Bardia. According to the common opinion, this is an exclusive feature of the cult reserved for Constantine the Great. But this is not true. It belongs to many other saints who are celebrated in Sardinia, for example S. Bartolomeo in Ollolai.”
“The horses gather on a nearby hill and, at the first shot that acts as a signal, they rush down a horribly steep path. Ahead stands the knight carrying the banner, which must not be overtaken. The stormy race, with the roar of the shots, reaches the sacred space and enters it through an arched access going up to the church. One has the impression of an initiation rite, of a heroic or mystical conquest of magical space, inviolable for the uninitiated. It is also a defense (Guardia, Bardia, Ardia) of the center that contains the divinity. Concepts all reducible in military terms, as well as in religious terms.”
And then my grandfather reports this beautiful text by Pietro Casu, writer from Berchidda, theologian and famous preacher in Logudorese: “… a varied crowd of devotees, of both sexes, barefoot, with uncovered heads and with loose hair, holding in their hand candles, banners, crosses and ex votos … they rushed … in a demented, frenetic flight … and wandered around the cross three times, for sacred commitment, as if possessed by a turbulent spirit of bacchanal, dragged by a robbery of delirium … Hair of virgins swayed in the wind, in the macabre jumble young people chased each other … floundering in free promiscuity … neighing obscenely. Old maids screamed, wept, whimpered, hearing the pawing of the horses looming behind them at their heels. “