San Cerbone

October 1, 2012 / Events
Golfo di Baratti, Tuscany
San Cerbone himself had quite a stormy life. He came from North Africa escaping religious persecution with a small group of priests, and after a treacherous journey arrived at Baratti, the ancient Etruscan port. He then passed some time as a hermit in the woods of Populonia and reluctantly accepted the role of Bishop himself when his Bishop was decapitated by the Goths.

His troubles however were far from over. He insisted on saying Mass at sunrise where he could see and hear the Angels chanting the Gloria. The locals were not pleased about such an early service, so they turned him in to the Pope. In Rome he held Mass for the Pope at sunrise in St. Peter’s, during which the Pope confirmed that he could see and hear the angels, so San Cerbone returned to Populonia.

This was not his first trip to Rome however, as he had been a prisoner of Totila the Goth, and sent to the Coliseum in Rome to be eaten by a bear. Legend has it that the bear approached San Cerbone and began only to lick his feet. Here too San Cerbone was released.

Before his death in 575 A.D., he had instructed his disciples to bring his body from Elba where they were hiding from the Longobards, to his little chapel at Baratti, nestled below Populonia. San Cerbone assured his followers that in spite of the enemies waiting for them and the turbulent seas all would be well and it seems it was.

Although his Saint’s day is celebrated on October 10th in the cathedral in Massa Marittima where he is Patron of the city, local devotees and visitors gather on the shore by the old chapel in September for a more intimate celebration of this well loved Saint.

At sunset small boats skirt the bay in procession. The crowd waits on the shore lit with bonfires and a path is lit by candles from the surf guiding the two priests being rowed ashore. Upon reaching the shore they clamor from the boat going knee high into the surf and one triumphantly carries the reliquary to the waiting Bishop to the cheers of the crowd. A safe passage once again!

And what is San Cerbone the patron saint of? No surprise here… He is the Saint to turn to when in need of safe passage and a shelter during a burrasca, a storm or squall.

Magnificent photos courteously provided by Giulio Cianchini. Many thanks!

Pat Carney

by Pat Carney

Pat Carney-Ceccarelli ( happily divides her time between Campiglia Marittima and Cambridge, UK.

11 Responses to “San Cerbone”

  1. Bob Insull

    Thank you (as always) for your attractive and informative notes about things Italian. In this morning’s piece on San Cerbone I think you mean the priests “clamber” (climb, move, or get in or out of something in an awkward and laborious way.) from the boat rather than “clamor” (to shout, or utter loud and continued cries or calls).

  2. Pazzanonna

    Thank you Pat for this interesting article. Also, thanks to Giulio for the beautiful photo shots.

  3. Pat Carney Ceccarelli
    Pat Carney Ceccarelli

    Thank you Bob! Actually it was a tad awkward but loud it was not!

  4. Thank to Pat and the “Italiannotebook” for the opportunity you give me, let you discover my country, history and culture through my photography!

  5. That’s a lovely post. What at nice event! Would love to add it to the event list on my Southern Tuscany blog (with a link to this post). Do you know which day of September it normally takes place each year?

    Grazie Katja

  6. Pat Carney Ceccarelli
    Pat Carney Ceccarelli

    Dear Katja,
    I think it is a rather sliding date! But will let you know. Would like to know more about your Southern Tuscany blog- please let me have the address! best from pat

  7. Pat,
    thanks for checking! From my experience, these events often have a set date, like the last Saturday every September or every year on the first Sunday of October (that’s the case with my village’s festa dell’vino).
    My blog is: I also write about Siena and Montalcino. You can also get directly to my Southern Tuscany blog by clicking on my name on the top of this post.

    A presto Katja

  8. Colleen Simmpson

    Grazie Mille Pat for a beautifully written and very wonderful post. Any celebration that involves bonfires, candles, lighted boats and delightfully eccentric saints who perform miracles is the one for me to attend…..I sure hope to someday! You are blessed to live close to this wonderful festival. Again, grazie.


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