The Festival of S. Agatha

s. agata

The Festival of St. Agatha, 3rd – 5th February 2015, the sacred and folkloristic face of Catania

Catania is celebrating! From the 3rd to the 5th of February the town will come alive to celebrate its Patron Saint, St. Agatha, whose festival is known throughout the world for the spectacular folklore that has characterized this feast day for centuries.

The festival of St. Agatha officially starts on February 3rd with the “offering of candles” during a procession known as “della luminaria” (of light), which leaves from the Church of St. Agatha (S. Agata alla Fornace) and terminates at the Cathedral. The day ends with a firework show in the striking Cathedral Square (Piazza Duomo). The most important religious, civil and military authorities attend the procession. Two eighteenth-century carriages that once belonged to the Senate that governed the town, and eleven “candelores”, large candles that represent the corporations or trades are carried in the procession and admired by the faithful and by onlookers.

The second day of the festival – February 4th – is an intense programme of activities that starts at 6.00 am and fills the day. Three different keys, kept by the treasurer, the master of ceremonies and the prior of the Cathedral chapter, are used to open the iron gate that guards the relics of the Patron Saint of Catania. The Saint’s bust, covered in gold and precious gemstones, is raised onto the renaissance reliquary float – “a vara” in Sicilian dialect – lined with red velvet, symbolising the colour of the martyr’s blood, or the colour of kings. The solemn Holy Mass of Dawn (“Messa dell’Aurora”), celebrated by His Excellency the Archbishop, greets the Saint and opens the procession through the streets, announced by festive gunshots.

The sites of martyrdom and the vicissitudes of the Saint’s life are revisited throughout the votive day: from the cathedral to the “marina”, and up to the column of the plague, which recalls the miracle the Saint performed in 1743, when Catania was protected from the epidemic. The devoted followers wear the traditional “white sack”, a votive cloth gown that covers the body down to the ankles and is tied at the waist by a rope, a black velvet cap, white gloves and a white handkerchief to wave during the celebrations. A crowd of more than four thousand people follow the float through the streets, replying “Cettu, Cettu” to the call “Are you all, all devotees?” that echoes through the town, uniting everyone in a common embrace.

The third and last day, February 5th, is Saint Agatha’s day and starts with the pontifical that opens the procession that weaves its way through other “inner” parts of the town. The most awaited moment is the passage along Via di San Giuliano, the most dangerous moment in the procession due to the slope. A test of courage for the “citizens”, interpreted – depending on the outcome of the climb – as a sign from Heaven, a good or bad omen for the whole year. At dawn on the 6th, the float with the relics reaches Via Crociferi. This is the moment when the Saint greets the town before the festivities end. All night long, the crowd braved the cold temperature, shouting “Viva Sant’Agata” in a moment imbued with spirituality. And then, in a moment of silence, the angelic and soothing chant of the cloistered nuns rises into the air. The firework display of February 6th officially closes the celebrations, with the float returning to the Cathedral.

How not to be captivated by the magical atmosphere of the St. Agatha festivities!