The altars of St. Joseph, Vetäre de San Gesèppe as original expression in Termoli, are one of the most fascinating local traditions that every year is renewed in Termoli. From the afternoon of March 18 until the afternoon of the next day, many people visit altars and tables, prepared by the local women in the houses situated along the streets of the old town of the city.
The rite, concentrated especially in the old town, is visited by families from the distant neighborhoods of the city. Each family, after the visit, receives the “Grain of St. Joseph“, a mixture of grain, chickpea, barley and boiled corn, flavored with salt and accompanied by a piece of bread, as a symbol of abundance and fertility. In Molise, this tradition is active in many localities, some of which present just the food table. The origin of the altars of St. Joseph dates back to the mid-19th century, when a native of San Martino in Pensilis (CB) brought the famous tradition to the old town of Termoli that, at that time, was the whole city. As time passed, the altars were set up “out of doors”, ie in other parts of the city.
The heart of tradition is represented by the altar, a real temporary monument erected in honor of the Saint above a base situated on two or three steps, in order to make it more visible. Suspended on it a picture depicting Holy Family. All around the decor is made with silk blankets, strips and tablecloths. On the ground flower vase of flowers and vase of grain. Next to the altar the table with all sorts of food: fish, oil, vegetables, fruits, sweets. Fatty foods are excluded, such as sausages and cheeses, cause the Lent. The contribution to the table is, first of all, from the family that organize it, but also from the neighbors. Very important is the presence of three large loaves of bread: on each of them is drawn a cane, a cross and crown to represent, in the order, Joseph, Jesus and Mary, Holy Family.
In the scenic representation, “virgin” girls, aged between 5 and 12 years old, all dressed in white and with a crown of flowers in their head, are of great importance. During the adoration stages, virgins sing and act hymns, poems and prayers to Saint. At the end, young men greet them throwing white sugared almonds. Finished the tradition the food is donated to the poor. This tradition constitutes the typically Christian connotation that provides a rigorous performing mode: after the home welcoming and prayers, it is possible to eat and the lunch is constituted by 13 dishes.
A healthy competition is the base to prepare the altars. The satisfaction to realize the most beautiful altar is a powerful incentive to perpetuate the tradition.