While most celebrate the summer solstice on June 21st, in Modena, summer has been celebrated for hundreds of years on St. John’s Day, the evening between June 23rd and June 24th.
It was typically an evening of cults and spells cast under starry skies. The dew that moistened the fields acquired miraculous regenerative powers. Rolling on the wet grass was thought to cure rheumatic illness or to help one become more physically toned and attractive.
This is also the time of year for harvesting many kinds of plants and herbs that can be prepared and conserved to use throughout winter.
Certain herbs were collected and bathed in St. John’s dew, increasing their potency -- Rue to alleviate stress, anxiety and inflammation; Mugwort was believed to fight cancer; Sage to soothe the stomach; Mint to remedy the flu; St John’s Wort to heal wounds; Rosemary to stave off baldness; and of course, Garlic to protect health and good fortune. Unripe walnuts are gathered and put under spirit to produce the nocino liqueur.
For the last decade, the Chiarli family has hosted a prestigious philanthropic event at Villa Cialdini created by a dear friend, the owner of a renowned wine bar in downtown Modena. Marina Bersani of Archer Modena called the event, “Witches of Wine and of Verse”. Herbs have been replaced by thirty artisanal specialties, the magic potions are found in 35 wines and cocktails produced with local wines and spirits, all personally chosen by Marina. Cleto Chiarli’s Lambrusco and Emilian wines are always among the evening’s pours. There are also tarot card readings, fire displays, music, dancing, and theatrical performances.
Only good witches are allowed entry with a generous donation. All proceeds go to two excellent causes: Aseop an association providing support and housing to families of pediatric oncological patients, and Anffas Nazionale, another association helping patients and families with neurological disabilities. This year, checks for 30,000 euro and 5,580 euro were given to the associations’ presidents by Marina Bersani, Anselmo Chiarli and his wife Beatrice.