Everyone has heard of – or seen – ships in bottles, and unless you have a passion for that kind of thing, they are nothing much to write home about. But we want to tell you about another kind of “ship” in a bottle, which you probably know nothing about, unless you have been here, amongst native Italians, on the 28th/29th of June. We are talking about the “Barca di San Pietro” – Saint Peter’s boat.
Let’s take a step backwards and give some background information; originally named Šim’ôn, (he who listens), Peter began life as a simple fisherman on Lake Galilee, and later became the first Pope in history. The Latin name “Pietro” literally means “stone” (pietra), and stands for the stone on which the first catholic church was erected in Rome. The Saint Peter cult goes back to medieval times, when Benedictine monks spread the word in Lombardy territory, and since then, many beliefs have been associated to his name. In the 1800s, a popular legend narrated that ” a thunderstorm will follow Saint Peter’s day, because the devil promised his mother (St Peter’s) she will leave hell on that anniversary”. This is why many fishermen refuse to go out on the night of the 29th, for fear of encountering storms. In other places, it is believed that this night will yield a particularly fruitful catch, whilst in yet others, it is said that the waters are treacherous because Saint Peter’s mother demands a human sacrifice. Fortunately, this poor, slandered mother is hailed in certain regions since she apparently sends heavy rain in those days, to save gasping agriculture in times of drought. Each to his own, as they say…
But the most fascinating legend is without a doubt the one we were referring to at the beginning of this article, Saint Peter’s boat, which “magically” appears on the night between the 28th and the 29th of June. Mainly a northern Italy tradition, it has however become more widespread in recent years. So how do you obtain your very own “Saint Peter’s boat”? Simple; you need a large container – a bottle or a jug will do, provided it has a slightly rounded shape and is made of glass. On the 28th of June, you half fill it with cold water (spring water is the ideal thing), then gently allow an egg-white to slide into it. Take the container carefully outside, without shaking the contents, and place it on the lawn, under a tree, or even a window sill is fine. Then leave it there all night, and let the night’s dew do the rest. So….. what happens?!
The next morning, you will find something strange in your container; the egg-white will have taken on a very odd shape, and the white filaments which formed during the night are reaching up towards the surface of the water. They look just like the ropes and masts of a ship, with it’s sails aspread…..farmers interpret open sails as a forecast of good weather, whilst thin, closed sails anticipate rain. It is said that a nicely-shaped ship is a sign of an excellent harvest during the year. The magic will last until midday, at which point it will begin to slowly dissolve……again, there are diverging beliefs regarding this phenomenon; for some, this is Saint Peter’s boat, his way of making his presence felt amongst his worshippers. Others believe that the boat belongs to Peter the apostle, fisherman and ferryman to souls, who uses it in order to spread faith in Christ. Another school of thought is that the boat was the one used by Peter to go down to hell and free his mother, transporting her to heaven.
So now you are all wondering – how does that thing with the egg-white work? Of course there are very scientific and logical explanations, which you are free to research yourselves. But we like to believe in magic, so we are going to leave you imagining ships, hell and heaven, rain and storms – and perhaps next June you will be curious enough to try your own experiment! Let us know if you do!!