Festa di Sant’Agata

Last weekend, I got the chance to fly to Catania, Sicily to visit my friend Gabrielle and witness firsthand the Festa di Sant’Agata, the world’s third largest religious festival and one of the biggest events in Italy. The festival runs for three days each year, culminating February 5 on Saint Agatha’s feast day. Throughout the festival, the streets of Catania are filled with religious devotees and non-religious revelators alike, everyone coming together to eat, follow the statue of St. Agatha through the city, and see the fireworks that go off in each neighborhood the statue reaches, morning and night. There were street vendors, candles, balloons, and people everywhere I looked.
I had intended to be there for all of Sant’Agata, but my canceled flight meant that I did not arrive until noon on Saturday. Up to that point, I’d missed seeing the big fireworks display in the Piazza Duomo Friday night and the mass at dawn on Saturday that preceded the statue’s removal from the church and loading into the fercolo, the ornate carriage that carried it through the city. So, when I arrived, Gabrielle and I set out to see some of Catania (and eat some fabulous arancini) before meeting up with some of her Catanese friends to see some of the procession.
Our intention was to watch one of the salite, a climb up one of Catania’s hills, but by the time we arrived it had already happened. Instead, Simone, one of Gabrielle’s friends, led us to the church where the fercolo was temporarily stopped. Simone was a devoto, one of the religious followers of Sant’Agata. All of the devoti wear a white robe, called the sacco, and a black cap to denote their status and ability to hold the cordone, the long rope that guides the fercolo through the city. The sacco is worn to symbolize the night when St. Agatha’s body was carried back into the city of Catania, when its residents turned out in their nightgowns to see her. Simone led our group and was an excellent guide to the festival, always knowing where we should be and where the best view would be. We were joined by his girlfriend, Alessandra, his friend, Carlo, and a few other friends from choir, Alessandro and his brother.

Gabrielle poses with some of the ornately lit archways that denoted the path of the fercolo through Catania.

My first glimpse of the fercolo, and therefore yours.

The statue of Sant'Agata, encased in the fercolo. This being the first day she's out of the church, she's surrounded by red flowers to symbolize her martyrdom.

As the night went on, we sampled some street food (the first time both Gabrielle and I had eaten horse meat), saw some neighborhood fireworks, set off as the fercolo approached, and followed the fercolo ourselves for awhile, walking alongside the cordone in the Via Plebiscito. By about 2am, Gabrielle and I were ready for bed, but Simone and Carlo, who was also a devoto, stayed out until 7am. Throughout the festival, the devoti are exactly what their name suggests: devoted. While they are walking in front of the fercolo, they have a call:
One man starts by shouting “Cittadini!”
The others respond with “Viva Sant’Agata”
“Viva Sant’Agata”
“Siamo tutti devoti tutti!”
“Certo certo.”
Of course in the Sicilian dialect the words are more like “scitadini” and “scetto” instead of “cittadini” and “certo,” and instead of “siamo” they say “semu.” By the end of the third day, most peoples’ voices are hoarse, so the pitch of the call gets higher and higher. It was something to hear!

One section of the city released these paper lanterns as the fercolo passed. They were beautiful!

These signs (the W is actually two Vs, for Viva S. Agata) are all over the city.

First horsemeat sandwiches! They were yummy.

A neighborhood fireworks display. These were the first fireworks I saw, so when people told me there'd be more later, I thoght it was all going to be relatvely tame like this. Boy, was I wrong.

This is the crowd in Via Plebiscito, waiting for the fercolo to come. If you look to the right side, you can see some of the devoti and the cordone.

As the fercolo passes, people can hand things up in offering to it. Many of the street vendors sell candles for people with small prayers to offer up. People with big prayers do something else, but we'll get to that later.

This is a group of devoti, gathered around for prayer.

People also release these small confetti papers that say "Viva S. Agata" on them as the fercolo passes. It's sort of like the opposite of mardi gras, where the people on the floats shower the crowd and hand things down.

The third day of the festival, Gabrielle and I stopped for a snack and then made it to the Piazza Duomo to watch the statue come out of the church again, amidst probably thousands of other people. Gabrielle described it as the crowds of New Year’s Eve in Times Square, the frenzy of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and the religious elements of Christmas at the Vatican, and that is a description I can easily believe. Among the crowd, we were able to see the statue being loaded into the fercolo and the candelore dancing out in front of it. The candelore are giant candles made of gold carried by teams of men who race each other and dance with the candles on their backs.

This is a minuzza for Sant'Agata. It's essentially a normal Sicilian cassata, but it's rounded and topped with a cherry in honor of the fact that St. Agatha was martyred by having her breasts cut off.

These are olivette, the other food for Sant'Agata. They're small bits of marzipan, rolled to look like olives and then either left plain or dipped in chocolate. I think I ate at least ten.

The candelore sitting alongside the church waiting to join the procession.

As the statue left the church, the cardinal of Catania came out on his balcony to watch. A child also insisted her Sleeping Beauty balloon have a great view - it's in most of my pictures.

This is one of the fireworks they set off while bringing her out to load into the fercolo. Che bello!

The statue itself, which Gabrielle told me is only viisble during the Festa di Sant'Agata. It's kept in storage the rest of the year.

This is a video I took of the statue being loaded into the fercolo. I felt there was no other way to describe how intense it was, with the Church bells ringing, the devoti waving their gloves, and the fireworks going off in the background.

As the procession got started, Gabrielle and I went to get dinner and rest up before meeting Simone and a few other friends to celebrate the last night of Sant’Agata. Gabrielle’s friend Agata knew of a place where we could watch the last round of fireworks as the statue arrived in the Piazza Borgo. We met Simone at Gabrielle’s apartment and Agata in the street nearby, and then went to her cousin’s school where we’d have a fantastic view of the display.

The fercolo on the third day. Now, it's covered in white flowers to symbolize St. Agathat's purity.

The last day of the festival involves a lot of candles. Whereas before people handed up small candles for small prayers, now they give larger candles for larger prayers, and it is the job of this devoto on the back of the fercolo to light them, then snuff them with his hand to make room for more.

The biggest prayers, however, get a candle like these. The idea is that anyone with a big prayer (Gabrielle's friend Elisa said the most common big prayers are release from prison and cure for illness) carries a candle the same weight as him or herself for the entirety of the last day, around and around the city. At night, the street was ablaze with candles like these, set down for a rest and to let some of the molten wax run off.

Everyone there was quite nice, but eventually Gabrielle and I grew tired of being the resident “Americans,” so we went back out to the street and found a wonderful standing view instead. While looking for our spot, we When the fireworks started around 4:30, we were standing almost directly under them. As it turned out, that happened to be exactly the time the Giants were winning the superbowl, so we had two reasons to celebrate. Immediately after the fireworks, we went to Agata’s friend’s apartment to toast with spumante for another dual-purpose celebration: in addition to the end of the festival, it was her birthday.

Here is a brief video I took of the fireworks display, to demonstrate how frenetic it was. Evidently the fireworks on Friday night are set to music, but these weren’t. They were, however, continuous and incredible:

If you’d like more information about Sant’Agata, I refer you to Gabrielle’s blog here or here or the Wikipedia page.


Lo scorso weekend, ho avuto l’opportunitaà di volare a Catania, in Sicilia a visitare la mia amica Gabrielle e testimoniare in prima persona la Festa di Sant’Agata, la festa terza religiosa del mondo e uno dei più grandi eventi in Italia. La festa dura tre giorni all’anno, che si conclude il 5 febbraio – il giorno della festa di Sant’Agata. Durante la festa, le strade di Catania sono pieni di devoti religiosi e non religiosi rivelatori allo stesso modo, tutti che si uniscono per mangiare, seguire la statua di S. Agata per la città, e vedere i fuochi d’artificio in ogni quartiere la statua raggiunge, mattina e sera. Ci sono stati venditori ambulanti, candele, palloncini, e le persone Ovunque guardassi.
Avevo intenzione di essere lì per tutti di Sant’Agata, ma il mio volo cancellato significa che non sono arrivato fino a mezzogiorno il Sabato. Fino a quel momento, avrei perso vedere i fuochi d’artificio grandi nella notte Piazza Duomo Venerdì e la massa all’alba del Sabato che ha preceduto la rimozione della statua dalla chiesa e il caricamento nel fercolo, il carro ornato di aver effettuato attraverso la città . Dumque, quando sono arrivata, Gabrielle e io abbiamo deciso di vedere alcuni di Catania (e mangiare un po ‘favoloso arancini) prima di incontrarsi con alcuni dei suoi amici catanesi di vedere alcuni della processione.
La nostra intenzione era quella di assistere ad una delle salite, una salita in alto di una delle colline di Catania, ma quando siamo arrivati era già successo. Invece, Simone, uno degli amici di Gabrielle, ci ha portato alla chiesa dove il fercolo è stato temporaneamente interrotto. Simone era un Devoto, uno dei seguaci religiosi di Sant’Agata. Tutti i devoti indossano una tunica bianca, chiamato Saccu, e un berretto nero per indicare il loro status e la capacità di tenere il cordone, la lunga corda che guida il fercolo attraversa la città. Il Sacco viene indossato a simboleggiare la notte quando il corpo di S. Agata fu riportato nella città di Catania, quando i suoi abitanti si è rivelato nelle loro camicie da notte per vederla. Simone ha portato il nostro gruppo ed è stata un’ottima guida per il festival, sempre sapere dove dovremmo essere e dove la vista migliore sarebbe. Siamo stati uniti dalla sua ragazza, Alessandra, il suo amico, Carlo, e pochi altri amici dal coro, Alessandro e suo fratello.
Durante la notte, abbiamo assaggiato un po ‘cibo di strada (la prima volta sia Gabrielle ed io avevamo mangiato carne di cavallo), abbiamo visto alcuni fuochi d’artificio di quartiere, partì come il fercolo si avvicinava, e abbiamo seguito il fercolo noi stessi per un po’, camminando a fianco del cordone in Via del Plebiscito. Intorno 02:00, Gabrielle e io eravamo pronti per il letto, ma Simone e Carlo, che era anche un devoto, è rimasto fuori fino alle 7. Durante il festival, I Devoti sono esattamente ciò che suggerisce il loro nome: devoto. Mentre camminano davanti al fercolo, hanno una chiamata:
Un uomo inizia gridando “Cittadini!”
Gli altri rispondono con “Viva Sant’Agata”
“Viva Sant’Agata”
“Siamo Tutti Devoti Tutti!”
“Certo Certo.”
Naturalmente in dialetto siciliano le parole sono più come “scitadini” e “scetto” invece di “Cittadini” e “Certo,” e invece di “siamo” dicono “semu.” Entro la fine del terzo giorno, la maggior parte dei popoli ‘voci sono rauca, così il passo della chiamata diventa sempre più in alto. E ‘stato qualcosa da sentire!
Il terzo giorno della festa, Gabrielle e io ci siamo fermato per uno snack e poi fatta a Piazza Duomo per vedere la statua di uscire dalla chiesa di nuovo, probabilmente tra migliaia di altre persone. Gabrielle lo ha descritto come la folla di Capodanno in Times Square, la frenesia di Mardi Gras a New Orleans, e gli elementi religiosi del Natale in Vaticano, e che è una descrizione che posso facilmente credere. Tra la folla, siamo riusciti a vedere la statua viene caricata nel fercolo e la candelore ballare davanti a esso. Le candelore sono candele giganti in oro effettuate da squadre di uomini che corrono tra di loro e ballare con le candele sulla schiena.
Mentre il corteo è cominciato, Gabrielle e io siamo andate a prendere la cena e riposarsi prima di incontrare Simone e pochi altri amici per festeggiare l’ultima notte di Sant’Agata. L’amica di Gabrielle, Agata, conosceva un posto dove abbiamo potuto osservare l’ultimo turno di fuochi d’artificio come la statua arrivò nella Piazza Borgo. Abbiamo incontrato Simone a casa di Gabrielle e Agata nella strada vicina, e poi siamo andati a scuola di sua cugina, dove avevamo una fantastica vista sul display.
Tutti c’era piuttosto bello, ma alla fine Gabrielle ed io siamo cresciuti stanco di essere residente “americani”, così siamo tornati in strada e abbiamo trovato una splendida vista in piedi, invece. Quando i fuochi d’artificio iniziato verso le 4.30, siamo stati in piedi quasi direttamente sotto di loro. Come si è scoperto, quello che è successo di essere esattamente il tempo i giganti stavano vincendo il Superbowl, così abbiamo avuto due motivi per festeggiare. Subito dopo i fuochi d’artificio, siamo andati a casa di un amica di Agata a brindare con spumante per un altro dual-purpose celebrazione: oltre alla fine del festival, era il suo compleanno.


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