THE MEANING OF THE BONFIRES
On the evening of the 16th February each year, it is a tradition in the villages and hamlets of the Waldensian Valleys to light bonfires in remembrance of the signing of the "Letters Patent" by King Carlo Alberto with which, for the first time in the history of Piedmont, civil rights were granted to the Waldensian minority and, a few days later, to the Jewish minority.
With this act the Kingdom of Piedmont not only ended centuries of discrimination against a group of its subjects, but set up a process of modernization which brought it up to the same level as the other European states and at the head of the Italian Risorgimento movement.
Celebrating the event today does not only signifiy remembering a past happening, but, above all, it means to be aware that freedom of conscience is one of the fundamental liberties of a democratic state, as is declared in the Italian Constitution.
This celebration has never been of a religious character but civil–though, naturally, the Waldensians are still grateful to God for the freedom obtained in 1848. Each year, regardless of political, cultural or religious differences, the whole population meets around the bonfires for a joyous folk celebration.
It is almost impossible to say exactly how many fires are lit on the hillsides surrounding Pinerolo or on the slopes of the mountains of the Pellice, Chisone and Germanasca valleys on the eve of 16th February. Here and there, spontaneous torchlight processions are formed, leading to the sites of the bonfires. The fires are usually lit at 8pm and around them the the community gathers to sing ancient hymns and traditional songs,to listen to brief messages and enjoy a glass of warming “vin brulè”, offered by the local community. The light of so many fires illuminating the dark skies is a fascinating sight!
The following are some of the particularly significant bonfire sites:
Bobbio Pellice (Val Pellice): the bonfire is lit in the Sibaud hamlet where,in 1689, the Waldensians took a solemn oath (the Treaty of Sibaud) of unity and concord.
Villar Pellice (Val Pellice): the bonfire is lit in the area of “Pont delle Ruine”at 9pm, and is impressive because of the great number of people and choirs present.
Torre Pellice (Val Pellice): the fire is lit in the Coppieri hamlet, where one of the most ancient Waldensian temples is to be found.
Luserna San Giovanni(Val Pellice): large bonfires are lit in the Stalliat, Banchina degli Odin and Cio d’mai areas. The torchlight procession leaves the temple of Bellonatti at 7pm.
Prarostino(Val Chisone): in San Bartolomeo, Roc and Collaretto hamlets. The bonfires are linked by the torchlight procession.
San Germano Chisone (Val Chisone): noteworthy is the bonfire of Risagliardo, where the local town band and Waldesian choir take part.
Perosa Argentina (Val Chisone): there is a large bonfire in the locality of Forte di Perosa.
Pomaretto (Val Germanasca): the main bonfire is in the Inverso locality, near the Town Hall.
Prali (Val Germanasca): the central bonfire is in Ghigo di Prali.