Festival of Saint Agatha
WHAT: FESTIVAL OF SANT’AGATA
WHERE: CATANIA, SICILY
WHEN: 3RD TO 5TH FEBRUARY & 17TH AUGUST
Considered to be the biggest religious festival in the world, and the most important festival held in Catania, Sicily; The festival of Sant ’Agata (Saint Agatha) takes place every year to commemorate the life and honour the patron saint of the city of Catania.
Born in the third century, to a noble family, Agatha decided at a very young age to dedicate herself and her life to Christianity. Also, very beautiful she attracted the attention of many men and was known for catching the eye of the Roman governor Quinziano, who would stop at nothing to make Agatha his.
After refusing the many repeated offers of marriage made by Quinziano, and fleeing to Palermo, he decided that if he could not have Agatha as his wife then no one could. Agatha became the subject of a campaign of religious persecution in her captors attempt to get her to renounce her faith. She was imprisoned, tortured, stretched on the rack with iron hooks, burnt with torches and whipped. They went on to cut off her breasts with pincers and she still maintained her faith. She was then to be burned at the stake but an earthquake in the area took precedence so she was imprisoned and later died.
After her death, it was realised what a cult figure and symbol Agatha was that she was sanctioned by Pope Cornelius. Her death brought about her martyrdom and her saints day became 5th February.
On the first day of the festival, a procession begins from the church of Sant ’Agata Della Fornace and ends at Duomo. This is when the parade of the Carriage of the senate takes place where the mayor of Catania delivers the keys to the city to the religious authorities. Along with this is the procession of the Candelore, these are 12 giant candles carried on a golden carriage and decorated with flags, smaller candles, and statues.
The day’s celebrations come to an end with an important tradition in Catania and crowds can queue for hours before to see the skies above the Piazzo Duomo light up with colours and effects as the fireworks take place to and the evening with a bang.
The second day is the most exciting and important day as this is when the city meets its patron saint. The remains of Sant ‘Agata are taken from the Cathedral and placed in a silver palanquin named fercolo. This is carried and shown through the crowded city streets, pausing at several points throughout at places that have a connection with the saint’s life. This keeps on going until sunrise when the statue is taken to its final resting place back in the Cathedral at the end of the day.
The final day is when a high mass is celebrated late afternoon, at sunset the Saint is again paraded throughout the city from Via Etnea to Piazza Cavour. The procession continues to the final leg, which is a speedy sprint up the “Acchianata di Sangiulianu” a long steep hill where the bearers show a symbol of their strength and devotion despite the heavy load. Just before dawn there is another fireworks finale before the fercolo reaches the Crociferi and the festivities end.
The second celebration is on the 17th August this marks the return of her mortal remains from Constantinople to Catania in 1126.
During the days of devotion, you will find many vendors offering the traditional food such as nougat with hazelnuts, Olivette of saint Agatha (green almond paste sweets to represent olives) and the sweet treat of Minnuzze de Sant ‘agata which is a sponge cake covered with white marzipan and topped with a cherry.
This festival has something for everyone fire, religion, food, and our favourite fireworks so make sure that you book your place in the city for this fantastic celebration.