San Giorgio is the patron saint of the city of Vieste together with Santa Maria di Merino and the festival held in his honor on April 23rd is deeply felt throughout the Gargano.
The cult of St. George
The cult of the Holy Knight is very ancient: born in Cappadocia (Turkey) around 280 AD, the figure of Saint George is linked to the golden legend:
Tradition has it that in Selem, in today's Libya, there was a large pond where a dragon lived and terrorized the inhabitants with its fiery breath. The inhabitants of the city were forced to offer livestock as sacrifices, but the dragon's hunger knew no bounds, and it began to devour even young girls. When the population was about to sacrifice Princess Silene, daughter of the King, the young knight George reassured them, inviting the population to convert to Christ. The city accepted and the young knight pierced the dragon with a spear.
And it is for this symbolic value of defender of good against evil that San Giorgio, whose cult was brought to the Gargano by the Byzantines, became, together with San Michele Arcangelo, a very important figure for the Gargano and for the crusaders who stopped here.
San Giorgio thus becomes the patron saint of the city of Vieste and of the archdiocese of Manfredonia-Vieste-San Giovanni Rotondo.
The Statue and the Feast
On April 23, the wooden statue of the Saint, from the Cathedral of Vieste, is carried on the shoulders, in procession up to the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie along the narrow streets of Vieste together with the other statues and brought back to the Cathedral of the city, in a path which crosses the city in celebration, with bands, fireworks and the omelette festival.
The statue portrays the Saint on horseback as he kills the dragon, is carried on shoulders in procession through the streets of Vieste and brought back to the city's cathedral, while the city comes alive with musical bands and the traditional omelette festival.
In the current statue the horse of St. George is white, but in the original statue the horse is black. This detail is linked to a curious anecdote: in fact, in 1961, during the procession of the feast of Santa Maria di Merino, in which the statues of the protectors of the city are paraded, due to the bad rain one of the 4 bearers of the statue of San Giorgio slipped at the height of the Church of the Holy Cross and the statue crashed to the ground causing panic among the faithful: some thought that it was the Saint himself who sent a warning signal to the city for some voices who wanted the feast of April 23 "redimensioned " in the years to come.
Ma the love of the Viestanis for San Giorgio was very strong, another statue was purchased and the festival, with its traditions, took place regularly every year (except for the pandemic-related interruptions of 2020 and 2021)
The most awaited event of the festivities in honor of the holy knight is perhaps the horse race, which competes between rivulets of water and sand in a prize on the suggestive Scialara beach, with arrival near Pizzomunno, the stack symbol of the city, and the ridge where the medieval historical center stands.
Unfortunately, due to some organizational problems, this horse race does not take place every year.
In the evening, before fireworks which close the festivities, in the square "del Fosso" great shows to everyone's delight.
The omelette festival
A typical event of the feast of San Giorgio is also the omelette festival.
The omelette sandwich, eaten on the verdant "hill of San Giorgio", now urbanized, has been a ten-year tradition. Today the sandwich is offered during the festival organized by the "Associazione Cuochi del Gargano e della Capitanata" held in Piazza Santa Maria delle Grazie, right at the base of the "hill of San Giorgio".
The legend is linked to the offer of a piece of omelette to the Saint by a poor man who had nothing else to offer as a votive offering.
The gift of egg-based food in spring, a symbol of life and regeneration, is present in many ancient and modern cultures.
It is thought that the first to use the egg as an auspicious object were the Persians who were celebratingarrival of spring precisely with the exchange of eggs. The Middle Eastern custom, like San Giorgio, has also become very common in Western civilization and also in Puglia, where the Easter scarcelle, shortcrust pastry biscuits with eggs, are widespread, and throughout southern Italy where often for these spring outings appetizing packed lunches based on bread and eggs are prepared.