In Campania the Tammurriata dance in honor of Virgin Mary. Among rites and traditions the next appointment will be on August 15 at the sanctuary of Materdomini (Salerno)

 From April to September in Campania they celebrate the most important festivals dedicated to the Virgin Mary. These are accompanied by Tammurriate, (singing and dancing over drums), ritual dances, dancing in honor of seven Christian Virgin Mary.

The cult of the tammurriata and the seven Virgin Mary, sisters among them, is the continuation of a ancient knowledge born in the fields and handed over to peasants and shepherds: a tradition that changes on details but remains faithful to itself in substance.


The origins of the tammurriata are lost since the beginning of time, but they sink their roots in the archaic Greek dances and in Sanniti , ancient belligerent populations. Like most of the cults of Mary, this choreutic event sees its origins in pagan rituals related to the Mother Earth's reverence and made to propose a good harvest.

The instruments

The tammorra is a percussion instrument. It is a frame drum consisting of a membrane of animal skin (goat or sheep) stretched on a circular wooden frame, the same of the flour sifters, connected to little disk of tin named ciceri or cibali (in the name of Goddess Cybele). The frame over which the skin is stretched is generally held down from the left hand, while the right plays rhythmically.                                                                                                          The testimony of the ritual character of this dance are castagnette, made of wood of chestnut or lemon. Their shape resembles the shape of a spoon without handle. Coupled with pair of laces, produces a dry sound that marks the rhythm of music. In honor of the marine origin, their shape is a shell.

The myth of Cybele

According to historians, castagnette were already used by the popular dances of Ancient Rome, during the rituals in honor of Cybele, the mother of men and gods. The ambivalent divinity symbolized among the Greeks the creative and destructive force of Nature. The myth tells that the goddess, while virgin, gave birth to a son, Attis. The young man decided to become a priest of the divinity, but realized that he loved his mother and, in order not to commit incest, he castrated himself.

The Seven Virgin Mary

The tradition of the Campanian people venerate seven Virgin Mary in seven different shrines where they are honored with different rites and prayers. The Virgins take their name from the places they are linked to or the attributes that characterize them.

  1. The Madonna of the Arch of Sant'Anastasia (Naples)
  2. The Madonna ‘Pacchiana’ of the Castle of Somma Vesuviana (Naples)
  3. The Madonna of hens of Pagani (Salerno)
  4. The Madonna dei Bagni di Scafati (Salerno)
  5. The Madonna of the Avvocata di Maiori (Salerno)
  6. The Madonna of Materdomini of Nocera Superiore (Salerno)
  7. The Madonna of Montevergine (Avellino), also known as the Madonna of the 'femmenielli', a protector of homosexuals, her main celebrations: the origins of the festival are pagan and linked to the myth of Attis and Cibele.

All these sanctuaries are the destination of thousands of pilgrims who, after the celebration of Mass, crash on the churchyard abandoning themselves to the Tammurriata.

The period

Festivals begin in the Easter period on Monday after easter for the Madonna dell'Arco, Sunday after Easter for the Madonna of the hens, and it end on September 12 with the Madonna of Montevergine. This rites celebrate the beginning cycle of spring until the end of the summer, which connects with the propitiatory ritual of the festivals, devoted to the natural cycle of the seasons, and to rejuvenate and flourish the fields and the products of the earth.

Seven tammurriate

Just as the characteristics of Virgin Mary, customs and dialects change, so change the styles of the tammurriates that, like the Virgin Mary, are seven:

  1. Tammurriata of Nocera’s land: it is a true courtship dance. In Scafati, the song that accompanies the dance is of pagan origin and tells the sad story of a girl who is born, like Venus, in the middle of the sea, soon becoming a pirate prey.
  2. The Sommese are characterized by a tighter style and rhythm in the execution of the steps.
  3. The Terzignese is executes in a pine forest at the foot of Vesuvius.
  4. The Giuglianese, born in Giugliano (NA), needs the use of an air instrument called 'o Sisco' that remembers the lyrical songs played by the satyrs. Joining the drum, it imitates the birds singing, a fascinating challenge among men.
  5. The Avvocata is also a challenge. Among the bivouacs of the pilgrims, there are circles of men who play with many drums.
  6. In Pimonte (NA), the song and dance of the Lattari Mountains is performed, a dance style with few variations in the steps, but with a difficult rhythm due to the particular sound of the tammorra.
  7. ’O ball’ ’e l’urzo, it is a song and dance that was almost forgotten, and now however, it is brutally returned among the youngest in Marcianise (CE).

Tammurriata is a danced tale in which death and life, sex and challenge, love and struggle are indissoluble: music and dance in every style has a narrative unity.

The event of 15 august

In Materdomini, a small village in the municipality of Nocera Superiore (SA), the preparations for the feast of the Sanctuary dedicated to the Mother of the Jesus (Latin Mater Domini) are fervent.

According to tradition, the portrait of the Virgin was found in 1041 by a farmer named Caramarì, the Virgin appeared to ask him to dig under an oak tree where he would find his effigy. After days of research, the Sacred Icon was found in a cistern, between two marble slabs: since then it was the subject of pilgrimage thanks to the many miracles accomplished.

The celebration is scheduled for the night between 14 and 15 August, where thousands of pilgrims  pray and honor the Virgin Mary with songs and dances all the night long, offering a magical night of faith and tradition.

The gastronomic tastings including the inevitable "palatella" with the 'mpupata', a small peace of bread of wheat flour with eggplants in oil and vinegar combined with anchovies under salt.

So between dances, songs and sacredness that blend with pagan myths and legends. The summer in Campania: traditions and rituals that live every night!