“Perdonamose!” St. John’s Birthday Feast, Midsummer Snails, and You.

I’m on the road, so here is something from last year.

Your planet once again is whirling its way towards your solstices, Summer in the North and Winter in the South.  Since the emphasis in Western Civilization has been northern, I’ll stick with that.

In the Northern Hemisphere the June solstice is the day with the most daylight and the shortest night.  It falls every year between 20-22 June, this year on 20 June.  The solstice marks the end of Spring and the beginning of Summer.

On Holy Church’s calendar we celebrated the Vigil of John the Baptist yesterday, 23 June, and the Feast of his Birth today, 24 June.  The reason we celebrate John near the solstice, both because we count the months of Elizabeth’s being with child, and because John said “He must increase, I must decrease”. The ancients knew that at this time of year the length of days began to decrease.  The Nativity of the Lord falls near the Winter Solstice, when the days – at last – get longer and light comes back to the world.

There are lots of fine traditions from different cultures which you might incorporate into your own observances.   I post this some days in advance so that you can prepare.

First, each year consider having a bonfire (and cookout) on the Vigil of the Nativity of the Baptist.  Invite your priests!  There is a special blessing in Rituale Romanum for fires on the Vigil.  After the usual introduction, the priest blesses (it should be done in Latin) the fire saying:

Lord God, almighty Father, the light that never fails and the source of all light, sanctify + this new fire, and grant that after the darkness of this life we may come unsullied to you who are light eternal; through Christ our Lord. All: Amen.

At this point the fire is sprinkled with holy water and everyone sings the hymn Ut queant laxis which is also the Vespers hymn.  I have more about that beautiful – and historically important hymn – HERE.  You might practice the hymn and sing it.

In some places the bonfire is used for the burning of witches… in effigy.  That could be fun.  The witch connection probably comes from the fact that the satanically inclined or possessed hold the solstice as one of their important annual moments for their vile rites.

Also, I recommend the eating of snails.  This is very Roman. 

Romans traditionally eat snail of the Feast of John the Baptist, and so should you.

If you call yourself a traditional Roman Catholic…well… there’s no excuse.

Also, there is a witch connection with the snails and what Romans ate.

Romans would gather certain plants that were mature by this point, such as what we call St. John’s Wort, along with onions and garlic, which they thought drove off witches and demons.

Near St. John Lateran (named after both the Baptist and Evangelist) there was a little hill Monte Cipollario or “Onion Hill” that was eventually razed in the time of  Papa Lambertini – Benedict XIV.  It seems that lots of onions and garlic were cultivated in that zone.    In any event, the Romans gathered at St. John’s and ate lumache al sugo and greeted each other with the Roman dialect “Perdonamose!” (from “perdono… forgiveness”), a sort of way of mutual apologies and peacemaking.  It may be that the eating of snails comes from the fact, first, that at this time of year there are a lot of them and, next, they have horns, which could have symbolized discord and strife.  Hence, eating them did away with strife and promoted reconciliation.  “Perdonamose!”

To make and mess of lumache al sugo alla romana (aka ‘na ciumacata), you need well-purged snails, of course, along with tomatoes, olive oil, hot red pepper, onion, garlic, (preferably wild) fennel and/or mint. A couple versions I saw included anchovy.  Make your sauce and then add the snails, cook for a while, and serve hot with good bread.  This one is instructive HERE.  And, HERE. For wine …. why get fancy?  Stick with cold Frascati or another dry white from the Castelli Romani – even Velletri!

If you can’t get your hands on some snails, or enough snails, there’s always THIS… for lots of fun and conversation.   I am not making this up…


US HERE – UK HERE… nope, sorry!

Meanwhile get your canned or jarred snails and start planing: US HERE – UK HERE… nope, sorry again!

Finally, I sure would like to make some snails tonight.  Anyone want to pitch in?  HERE


There is also a very cool Medieval recipe I just found for cherries for St. John’s Day.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Sportsfan says:

    “I recommend the eating of snails”

    sto bene

  2. ReadingLad says:

    Can you eat snails on a Friday, or do they break Abstinence?

  3. Sid Cundiff in NC says:

    Osteria Della Suburra and Trattoria Morgana are two restaurants in Rome for snails. I’ve been to the first. The snails were cooked in their shells, and eaten whole.

  4. albinus1 says:

    ReadingLad: I’m sure (and I hope) Fr Z will correct me if I’m wrong, but since snails are cold-blooded they should be OK, just like frog legs, rattlesnake, and alligator.

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