The ancient Greek myth of Persephone in Bova, Italy
CATEGORY / DESCRIPTION : Text - Bruno Tracio
Translation in Greek: Ioannis Sidirocastritis

Bova, the Chora, is in the centre of the South side of Aspromonte, where the south end of the Apennines meets the Mediterranean, opposite the Sicily coasts, where the Ionion Sea joins the Aspromonte to Etna. It is situated at the top of a panoramic mountain (850 m. above sea level).

The Chora, is a small casket of history, myths and monuments. Bova has got Magno-Greek origins which are still present in its language rich of Doric words. The Greek language is not only written in the village’s signs and the promotional brochures but it is also still spoken.

Every year, on Palm Sunday, in Bova-Chora (Reggio Calabria), people celebrate a spectacular custom, unknown in the rest of the region. It shows itself as a holy moment for the whole population and it consists of bringing, during a procession, huge female statues sculptured with olive leaves to San Leo’s sanctuary, the main church in Bova.

The farmers, interlacing olive leaves around a board of cane, build up thanks to their great patience and ability, some female figures, the so-called “Pupazze”. At the end of an important process of putting together the figures, which are different in dimensions if they represent the mother or the daughter, are beautified and adorned with flowers and enriched and bejeweled with first fruit. The atmosphere offered by the procession of vegetable statues, crossing the narrow and winding streets in Bova, is an elegant and joyful passing of shapes and colours.

After their benediction, the sculptures are brought outside the church; here people approach to the statues and they take some of their components, the so-called “Steddhi” which are given out among the onlookers.

Some people put at least a blessed “Steddha” up the tree of each farm all year in order to witness the holy relationship between man and universe. Some others hang olive leaves on the bedroom walls; some others put them near their holy pictures and relatives’ photographs. Some people use these blessed leaves to take away the evil eye; this rite is celebrated putting three grains of salt and four little small consecrated leaves arranged as a cross, on a burning embers. When the smoke begins to inebriate the house, people tell a prayer. The blessing twigs, even if they are old, keep their holy essence and so people burn them in the fire, to get rid of them.

In the peasant culture of South Italy there is still some ancestral worship. This use which is a tradition in Bova, is so important and special because the female figures, often Junoesque, reminds us the myth of Persephone and of her mother Demetra, Goddesses of agriculture.

The legend tells that Ades, man of hereafter, fell in love with the young girl Persephone and kidnapped her while she was picking up some flowers in the Niseo field and he brought her to the underground kingdom. This kidnapping caused the disappearance of vegetation but, after horrible days, thanks to Demetra’s petitions to Zeus, it was possible that the daughter Persephone could come back on the Earth, only half a year, to blossom the fields again.

The mythical interpretation of seasons and of nature fruitfulness established a relation between the agriculture and people’s destiny. This union is also evocated by the popular worships in Magna Grecia.

The simple and quiet village with the warm, hospitable people is very similar to the Greek villages. The inhabitants welcome their guests with the sound of their ancient Greek language:

“Elaste me agape, ameste me Irini ce ighia”, which means “Come with love, leave with peace and health”.
Citta di Bova