The Ardia of Sedilo
Extraordinary heritage of the byzantine domination in Sardinia (6th - 10th century), the cult of Saint Constantine, the first roman emperor, has still a huge following at the centre of the island in Sedilo (OR), even though the catholic church doesn't officially recognize it. Here, to tribute Santu Antinu, on August 6th and 7th takes place s'Ardia (the guard), a reckless and spectacular horse race, one of the many races the sardinians traditionally organize, to celebrate the saints festivities.
To popular belief, s'Ardia symbolically recalls the victory of Constantine in the battle of the Milvian bridge, fought in Rome in 312, when he defeated the usurper Maxentius becoming the only ruler of the roman empire. In truth, the race probably originated from the byzantine Basilèus and the roman Augustus, funeral ceremonies that involved the parade of troops around the coffin of the ruler. It's not a coincidence that s'Ardia is raced on foot and on horses both, just like the ancient armies included infantry and cavalry.
The ceremony establishes the appointment of an head of the race, whoever wants to assume this role has to sign up in a register, the choice is made by the priest of Sedilo months before the event, following the entering order. The waiting list is many years long.
The head of the race is called Pandèla Prima, "first flag", he appoints himself two horsemen as assistants, sa segunda and terza pandèla (second and third flag), each three of them has a bodyguard armed with a rod and they're called s'iscòlta "the escort". Their Job is to ensure the other riders (dozens of them) don't outrace the Pandèla Prima, they can even use the rods and the staffs of the banners to strike them.
The Race starts the afternoon of July 6th, with the solemn turning of the gold, red and white banners to the Pandèla and red lined rods to the Iscoltas, maybe a representation of the ancient Vexilla and Signa of the roman legions. This task in performed by the priest in front the parsonage.
The parade of horsemen, led by the priest and the mayor, goes to the sanctuary of Saint Constantine located near the town. They're preceded by a large group of riflemen that clear for them the roads crowded with believers, shooting blanks thousand of times.
The priest and the Mayor leave the parade when it reaches su Frontigheddu, an hill which overlooks the entrance to the Sanctuary, then Sa Pandèla Prima suddenly starts the race trying to gain advantage on the other riders. The Crazy race, at first downhill, goes through the arch at the access to sa corte (the fence of the sanctuary), ending uphill at the back of the building. This is just the first step of the Ardia.
The horsemen complete then seven slow honorary laps around the sanctuary, clockwise, before the start of the second step of the race, a steep descent to reach sa muredda, a brick roundabout that encircle a cross standing at the end of the valley. This cross symbolizes the castrum, the imperial camp that guarded the labarum, a miraculous war banner that Constantine marked with the symbols of Christ.
Three slow laps clockwise and three counterclockwise have to be performed around the cross, the race then starts again in reverse to reach the church square, the finish line. After the race the high mass is celebrated in the church and all the riders get back to town, after a little run to reach again su Frontigheddu, where the parade regroup.
The ardia on horse is repeated the day after, the same as before, while the ardia on foot is raced eight days later instead, with new Pandelas and Iscortas and they will be chased around the church of Saint Constantine,by all the youngsters of the town.