Feast of Sant’Agatha in Catania

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From the 3rd to the 5th of February, Catania dedicates a great festival to its Patron Saint: Sant’Agata. The celebration involves up to a million people with tourists, onlookers and devotees. Processions with fireworks, ceremonies and magnificent historical parades wind their way through the streets, illuminated by thousands of lights. In the Baroque city, ancient rituals are renewed.

In a combination of faith and folklore, the Feast of Saint Agatha is compared to the most famous celebrations, such as Holy Week in Seville and the Feast of Corpus Christi in Cuzco.

According to tradition, Agatha was a beautiful young Christian woman from an aristocratic family who lived in Catania in the first half of the 3rd century. She suffered torture and martyrdom for refusing the courtship of governor Quinziano. To defend her faith and moral integrity, she had her breasts torn off and then she was killed.

After her death, the city of Catania was threatened by the violent eruption of Mount Etna. To stop the lava from advancing, the inhabitants used the white veil that was placed over Agatha’s tomb. And here is the miracle: the veil turned red and stopped the eruption on the 5th of February, the anniversary of her martyrdom.

Since then, as a sign of gratitude, Catania is festively decorated with bright lights. Thousands of tourists arrive every year to participate in the celebrations. Sant’Agata, in her silver ferculum, ‘a vara, is carried around the town, among her people.

On the first day of the festivities, the civil authorities parade on board the 18th century Senate carriage. The religious and military authorities march in a procession. They all follow the eleven ‘candelore’. The candelore are heavy wooden constructions, carved and gilded, made by the ancient trade corporations. During the traditional wax offering, the candelore are carried on the shoulders of strong men. In the evening, the magnificent firework show takes place in Piazza Duomo.

The next day begins with the Aurora Mass, followed by the procession of the ferculum through the streets of the city. The most awaited moment is the so-called cchianata de’ Cappuccini. Saint Agatha statue is pulled at a run to Piazza San Domenico. The faithful citizens wear the traditional white votive costume (‘u saccu) and a black headdress, and they wave a handkerchief. During the procession they all call out in a loud voice: “All devout, all citizens, long live Sant’Agata!”. The tour of the city ends with the return to the Cathedral at first daylight.

On February the 5th, the celebration continues in the inner part of the city. Entering via Etnea, the procession reaches piazza Università, then piazza Stesicoro and, further on, Villa Bellini. The ferculum arrives late at night in Piazza Cavour. One of the most characteristic and eagerly awaited moments is the ‘cchianata “i Sangiulianu” when the devotees pull the very heavy statue at a run. In the early hours of the morning, the Saint returns to the Cathedral, greeted with great affection by the devotees and a magnificent fireworks show.

If we are in Catania during the festival, we must try the olivette di sant’Agata: small almond pastries coloured green and covered in sugar. Let’s taste the cassateddi di Sant’Aita, also known as minnuzzi. These small cakes looks like breasts in memory of the martyrdom suffered by the Saint.

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