Titbits – The Easter Dove
Our column this week is dedicated to the Easter Dove (Colomba di Pasqua), the traditional Italian Easter cake.
With Easter just around the corner, this classic cake will be a prominent feature on all Italian tables. However, the Dove only became the symbol of the Italian Easter in the 1930s, when the Motta Company decided to make a cake similar to the panettone, but shaped like a dove and enriched with almond paste and sugar frosting.
But today we want to talk about an older legend that intertwines with the story of an Irish missionary monk, known for having founded numerous monasteries and churches in Europe: Colombanus.
Born in Navan in about 542 a.D., he died in Bobbio (Italy) on November 23, 615 and is now the patron saint of motorcyclists.
He is not to be confused with the more famous Saint Columba, Colm Cille, who along with Saint Patrick and Saint Bridget is one of the patron saints of Ireland.
Legend has it that in the early Middle Ages, in the year 612, the Irish monk Colombanus, was travelling through the Lombard kingdom, near the present-day city of Pavia, with some other religious travelling companions.
The Saint and his companions were received by the Lombard rulers and invited to a very rich lunch.
At the banquet many meat dishes were served. True, it wasn’t a Friday but it was still Lent and the devout Columbanus wouldn’t even remotely consider eating meat.
In fact, he felt uneasy sitting at such an opulent table in the period of Lenten penance.
In order not to offend Queen Teodolinda while at the same time respecting the Christian precept of not eating meat, Colombanus found a diplomatic way out and stated that he wanted to bless the food before consuming it.
During the blessing, meat dishes were transformed into bread doves, as white as the monks’ monastic tunics.
The queen was so moved by the miracle that she decided to donate a plot of land at Bobbio, where the abbey of Saint Columbanus was later erected.
The white dove also became the iconographic symbol of the saint, and is always depicted as resting on his shoulder.
It seems that the cake that we now enjoy at Easter originates from the white doves of the legend.
But there are also other legends about the origins of this cake, for example:
King Alboin, having conquered Pavia on the eve of Easter after three years of siege, is said to have spared the city from looting because among the gifts he received there were some exceptionally good cakes baked in the shape of a dove.
Another legend tells us that the origin of this recipe is linked to the battle of Legnano (1176), won by the League of Lombard municipalities against Federico Barbarossa.
To celebrate the victory, one of the Lombard leaders had special breads made in homage to the three doves that had watched over the Lombard flags during the battle.
Whichever legend you decide to believe, 121 Italian Tuition wishes you a peaceful Easter.
Happy Easter everyone!