Candelora (feast of candles) is among the most ancient Roman feasts coming from the transformation of a pagan tradition and is celebrated the 2nd of February. This month was dedicated by the Romans to Fauno, god of fertility involved in the pagan festival of Lupercalia. During this period there were processions with lights and torches for the purification from bad influences.
When Christianism finally conquered the Roman institutions this festival was still going on, since especially the senatorial class was attached to the ancient traditions and some believed that wars, epidemies and ruin were a consequence of the abandon of these practices. It was then that pope Gelasio was able to convince the Senate that the disgraces Rome was going through were on the contrary due to the misbehaving, superstition and traces of paganism.
The festival of Lupercalia was in the end abolished and replaced by other celebrations: among them St.Valentin and the feast of the Purification of Mary, which is 40 days after Christmas as for the Jewish law women stayed impure that long after the delivery. It was called the Festival of Candles, Candelora. The ritual consisted in a procession through the Roman Forum to Santa Maria Maggiore, with the blessing of the candles.
In a later period it was the brotherhood of Santa Maria dell’Orto in Trastevere which took care of the celebration. Other than candles the brotherhood also blessed the waters of the Tiber river, in the morning when everybody showed on their boats for the solemn blessing and delivery of the candles, that could be switched as a sign of devotion to Mary or only as a request for help in case of danger, disease, storms.
The church of Santa Maria dell’Orto is one of the highlights in Trastevere district, in via Anicia 10.