In the Chòra, Bova, many ancient popular traditions are still very much alive.
Every year, on Palm Sunday, the town renews an age-old ritual going back to the remote universe of Greek mythology and the Eleusinian mysteries. The Eleusinian mysteries were religious rites celebrated every year at the sanctuary of Demeter in the ancient Greek city of Eleusis.
When, in the seventh century B.C., Eleusis became part of the Athenian state, the rites were extended to the whole of ancient Greece and its colonies, including Bova where the ritual, then as now, is very much alive and keenly felt.
The feast of the Pupazze [Dolls/Puppets ] or Persephones has its roots in ancient mythology, in the cult of Persephone and her mother Demeter which was celebrated at Mycenae.
The festival, now celebrated on Palm Sunday, that is, around Easter, is felt profoundly by the inhabitants of Bova, who as a community and well in advance of the festivity, come together and begin to make the pupazze.
This important rite, unique to Bova and Graecanic Aspromonte, needs to be protected because of its strong ritualistic worth, and on account of the historical and cultural implications embedded in its symbolism.
The pupazze in procession
The tradition requires that a procession be headed by a set of large female figures (pupazze) made by the inhabitants of the charming hamlet of Bova These effigies are made by patiently and skilfully weaving olive branches around a mainstay made of cane. At the end of this laborious task of actually making the pupazze, these “mothers” and “daughters” ( depending on their size) are “dressed”, that is, adorned with flowers and the firstfruits of the season and carried to the church of St Leo, patron saint of the Chora, where they are blessed.
This characteristic Palm Sunday Procession follows a precise schedule:
10.00 am: the pupazze assemble in Piazza Roma and then proceed in procession to the Sanctuary of St. Leo, where they are blessed. From there they are carried through the narrow laneways of the hamlet, a joyous procession of shapes and colours, that weaves its way through the streets of the old town to arrive at the co-Cathedral of Saint Theodore.
Noon: the pupazze leave the co-Cathedral and are carried out in the churchyard, where they are dismembered and their components (called steddhi) distributed to the faithful.
Rituals: Some people tie at least one steddha to a tree on their land, as a sign of blessing and testimony of the intimate, sacred relationship existing between man and creation, others hang the plaited olive branches on the wall of their bedrooms, while others put them on the dresser in the kitchen. Finally there are those who use the blessed leaves to fumigate the house and those who dwell in it, that is, to remove the evil eye from the building and its inhabitants and from those who live there.