Colors of Aosta: a day in Gressoney-Saint-Jean

Woman and her son wearing the traditional costume of Gressoney Saint Jean for St. John's Day

Woman and her son wearing the traditional costume of Gressoney Saint Jean for St. John’s Day

Red and White, Black and Gold: The legend of Gressoney-Saint-Jean’s traditional women’s costume…

I recently spent a lovely Saturday and Sunday in the Val de Lys in Italy’s province of Aosta, which is near the north-western border with Switzerland. Here we stayed in a little cabin just above Gressoney-Saint-Jean and directly below Monte Rosa.

On Saturday, I had gone up just north of Biella with two friends (SO’s and families in tow) to take a spindle-spinning workshop. My husband and his brother had decided, as long as we were close, to take advantage of the first days of open ski-lifts in order to spend a few days climbing up to Punto Gnifetti. So, after the workshop we drove up to Gressoney-Saint-Jean, ate at the wonderful Brasserie Creperie Paul Verlaine where they told us that Sunday was the festival day of the town’s patron saint (St. John’s Day – 24 June). After a snug night in a lovely cabin under woolen blankets, my husband and brother-in-law went up the hill while his girlfriend, my daughter and I went down into town. What a beautiful scene! Everyone was decked out in traditional costumes, including a fellow wearing these fabulous socks:


Meanwhile, we’d picked up some information at the local tourist office and there was this dramatic story describing why the women (and some of the men) wear red, white and black…

Once upon a time all of the women of Gressoney-Saint-Jean wore black; for festivals they would wear either this or sometimes a blue or purple dress, always with a white broadcloth shirt and a black jacket. And so it remained until one day, tragedy struck. Legend tells that a mother had taken her flock out to pasture when her small son slid into a ravine.  Another woman, who was childless, saved his life while sacrificing her own. Broken on the rocks, her blood dyed her clothing red.

Since that day, in honor of her sacrifice, all of the women have worn red skirts to symbolize her blood, richly embroidered aprons and jackets that are black as the rocks that caused her death and blouses, pure white as the snow atop the mountains or the foaming waters of the Lys. The intricate golden filigree headdresses, often embellished with precious stones and proudly passed down from mother to daughter, are said to represent her golden hair. *

Who knows if the legend is true, but it does make for an excellent tale. After experiencing the town and watching St. Jean’s procession through the streets…

The procession of St. John by the citizens of Gressoney-Saint-Jean

The procession of St. John by the citizens of Gressoney-Saint-Jean

I feel inspired to make these socks in The Wool Box’s fabulous Oropa 1-ply. What color will I order? What else but Aosta Red!

Thanks for dropping by and happy wool-working!

*excerpted and translated from the document I Walser all’ombra del Monte Rosa: un tesoro fatto di lingua, tradizioni e leggende all’interno della Valle d’Aosta”


4 thoughts on “Colors of Aosta: a day in Gressoney-Saint-Jean

    • Thanks Jen, there were also people from the other villages in the procession, they were sporting completely different colors: grass green and white, all black, blue and silver. The men’s costumes were wonderful too; I have to say that I’d never seen quite so many different styles of lederhosen all at once!

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