La Procession of Sant’Agata in Catania
For the procession of Sant’Agata, from 3 to 6 February, almost a million people gather in Catania to pay homage to the saint. Among these there is a white tide, they are the devotees with the “sack”, many tourists who come from all over the world and just curious.
The sack is the representative garment of every devotee and is made up of a white coat, a black scurzitta (hat) and a rope as a belt.
The White Sack, mindful of the days when Sant’Agata was brought back to Catania, after being stolen by General Giorgio Maniace in Constantinople, as evidence that the people of Catania went down to the streets to welcome their Saint, in a white nightgown and hat black, the rope instead is representative of the cords with which the devotees pull the fercolo of Sant’Agata.
It is the third most important religious festival in the world, after the Holy Week in Seville and the Feast of Corpus Domini in Guzco in Peru, precisely because of the number of people it involves and attracts.
The feast is dedicated to the patroness of Catania, the young Agata who was martyred and put to death in the third century AD. because of his Christian faith after rejecting the Roman governor Quinziano. From this gesture of rebellion, considered heroic by both Christians and pagans, his cult was born.
On the streets and alleys of Catania the protagonists are: the “vara” and the “cannilori”. The “vara”, damaged and rebuilt a couple of times, is completely in silver and rests on a wooden frame. The bust-reliquary of the saint and the casket containing her relics are carried in procession on it. The “vara” is decorated with carnations, whose color varies according to the day of the procession: red on the 4th and white on the 5th. Following the launch you will find the “cannilori”: 11 large wooden buildings in Baroque style with a central big candle and variable weight between 400 and 900 kilos!
The Feast of Sant’Agata takes place over 3 intense days of celebrations and processions, but the most exciting moments are the 4th and 5th of February, when “a vara” crosses all the districts of Catania.
On the morning of February 3 a beautiful eighteenth-century carriage, followed by another smaller one, on which the Mayor and the Aldermen take their places to go to the procession.
On the evening of February 3 we have the party with a cantata and an intense shot of fireworks in Piazza Duomo, accompanied by the loud peal of the Cathedral bells.
On February 4th we have the Aurora Mass, Piazza Duomo is a human carpet.
After the mass, St. Agatha is taken out of the Cathedral and here, after the fireworks, the ceremonial of the arrangement of the Scrigno and the Reliquary Bust on the Vara begins, which takes place at the sound of the bell of St. Agata, placed in the bell tower of the Duomo.
The external tour of the procession begins, crossing Porta Uzeda, where the traditional “Calata da ‘marina” begins, so-called because until 1866 that road was lapped by the sea.
The tour continues along Via Dusmet, Via Vittorio Emanuele, Piazza dei Martiri, Viale Della Libertà, Piazza Jolanda, Via Umberto, until arriving in Piazza Stesicoro and proceeding to the climb of the Capuchins near where his martyrdom was consummated.
The Saint is made to stop for a long time in Piazza Stesicoro next to the Roman Amphitheater and a prelate recalls the liturgical meaning of the Martyrdom of Agata, the ascent of the Capuchins begins which constitutes, together with the ascent of San Giuliano (evening of 5 February) and entry into the Cathedral (on the morning of February 6) one of the most spectacular moments of the celebrations.
The fercolo is hauled uphill by the devotees and on this journey passes in front of the Church of the Fornace, where S. Agata suffered the last martyrdom and the Church of the Holy Prison, where he gave his soul to God.
In the afternoon we leave for the Via Plebiscito. After traveling along Via Vittorio Emanuele, Piazza Risorgimento, Via Aurora and Via Palermo you arrive at Piazza Palestro, where a spectacular fireworks display takes place. Then, after having crossed via Garibaldi, via Plebiscito, via Dusmet, you arrive in Piazza Duomo, where the first day of the party ends.
On February 5th, the internal tour starts around 5.00 pm.
At the exit of the reliquary bust, the bells start ringing again, the fireworks resound in the air.
S. Agata starts to face the last evening of the celebrations: via Etnea, seen from Piazza Duomo, with the mighty play of light produced by the illuminations, a long infinite tunnel appears to arrive at Piazza Cavour, where the church of S. Agata al Borgo, built on the occasion of the eruption of 1669. Then we set off for the return along the descent of via Etnea.
At the intersection with via di Sangiuliano another long stop. We are waiting to face “a ‘nchianata di Sangiuliano” which is the most suggestive but also the most tiring moment of the whole journey.
A long phase of reflection and prayer begins in via Crociferi. Via Crociferi was, and in part still is, the seat of monasteries and churches: a real “via Sacra”. For this reason, from the eighteenth century onwards, it is an obligatory stop in the Agatina procession. Here she receives the homage of the Benedictine nuns who sing hymns to the Saint from the gratings of the windows of the ancient monastery.
Finally arrives in via Garibaldi. From here the triumphal return to the Cathedral. It is time for closure, but also for the almost desperate cries of the most fervent devotees, as the time has come to part with Sant’Agata.
Feast of Santa Rosalia in Palermo
The Feast of Santa Rosalia (lu fistinu in Sicilian) takes place in July in Palermo. In 1624 in the city of Palermo, tormented by the plague, the population relied in vain on the patron saints of the city and of the four city districts: Sant’Agata, Santa Cristina, Sant’Oliva and Santa Ninfa.
During this crisis, according to legend, the then little known Santa Rosalia appeared to a soapmaker named Vincenzo Bonello, indicating the location of his remains and ordering that only if his remains were carried in procession would the plague be over. In the cave indicated by the vision, 27 relics were found and on July 15 the archbishop followed by all the clergy, the Palermo senate and some eminent citizens made a procession through the streets of the city with the relics of the saint. In a few days the city was freed from the plague. From 1625 the Church authorized the cult, even if Rosalia was proclaimed a saint only on January 26, 1630. For the Palermitans, Santa Rosalia is called “La Santuzza”.
The Feast of Saint Lucia in Syracuse
On 13 December Syracuse celebrates the patron saint Saint Lucia. The statue of the saint is carried in a slow procession from the Duomo to the church of Santa Lucia al Sepolcro; the procession is followed by an eighteenth-century carriage with costumed characters.
The following week, the procession takes the opposite route and the statue of the patron saint, carried on the shoulder by the green berets of the brotherhood of carpenters, returns to the cathedral. The festival is accompanied by the traditional fair, which takes place from 12 to 20 December.
Holy Week Barrafranca
At Easter, on Holy Wednesday it is possible to attend the “Vasacra”, that is the Via Crucis, set up in the form of a traveling theater, which is followed with moving and attentive public participation.
More rooted in popular tradition is the solemn procession of Good Friday, called “U Trunu”, during which numerous bearers, with immense effort, carry the fercolo of the Crucifix.
On Easter Sunday the Giunta takes place, that is the meeting between the Madonna and the Risen Christ; characteristics are the figures of the apostles, tall gurus with carved wooden heads that animate the sacred pantomime.
“U Trunu” (The Triumph) is a procession deeply felt by the Barresi that every year on Good Friday is carried on the shoulders of the faithful through the streets of the historic center. “U Trunu” is covered with white veils and colorful bows. During the procession countless people flock to be the bearer of “U Trunu”.
A singular feature compared to the other events on the island is that everyone can participate freely in this event, helping to make the procession uniting and engaging for the entire citizenry. Without rules the crowd of the faithful amalgamates for the journey together with that of the porters until they become one with it.
IL REI (Intangible Heritage Register) as part of the “Identity and Future” program has included in the Book of Celebrations of the Sicilian Region, the ancient Folklore-Religious event “Giunta Pasquale” and “U Trunu” on Good Friday in Barrafranca.
Feast of San Michele in Caltanissetta
San Michele Arcangelo was elected patron of the city in the first half of the 1600s.
In 1624 a plague epidemic broke out in Sicily, and in Caltanissetta, as in other Sicilian hinterland towns, it was feared that it could reach the city.
We are in 1626, the city at that time was surrounded by walls and every effort was made not to let foreigners who could carry the disease enter, but a man infected with plague tried to enter the city through a door in Via delle Calcare, at the Sallemi district.
At the same time, a Capuchin friar, Fra ‘Francesco Giarratana, who was in the convent located in the Pigni district (today viale Regina Margherita), the place from which the Sallemi district was visible, had the vision of the Archangel Michael who with a sword it pushed the infected man, who was already entering the city, to go back. The other religious looking out of a convent window also saw this figure with the appearance of a soldier.
San Michele reappeared shortly after to Fra Giarratana, telling him that the city had been saved, thanks to his merit, from the plague, and that he wanted to be venerated by the city as a protector.
Between? Giarratana told everything to the clergy and magistrates saying that San Michele wanted to be recognized protector of Caltanissetta. Confirming the miracle was the finding of the plague victim just outside the city, near a cave. Thus it was that the clergy, the political authorities and the people proclaimed San Michele protector of the city. Thus began the cult for the Archangel St. Michael, in fact a small chapel was built in that cave, which was then enlarged in 1837.
The construction of the statue of the Patron Saint was entrusted to the sculptor Stefano Li Volsi from Nicosia who, according to some scholars, transformed an unfinished work depicting the Guardian Angel into the figure of St. Michael.
Nowadays there are two celebrations in honor of San Michele. The first takes place on May 8 in memory of the apparition. On this day, the statue of the patron saint, which is kept in the Cathedral all year round, goes out in procession to the sanctuary dedicated to him, in the Sallemi district (once a suburban area). The statue remains there for a few days, and then returns to the Cathedral.
The second feast takes place on 29 September, the liturgical day. After the solemn pontifical celebrated by the Bishop, the statue is carried in procession along the streets of the center. During the procession a devotee shouts: – And everyone shouted to me! (And we all shout) and all the others reply: – Viva lu prìncipi San Micheli Arcangilu! (Long live Prince St. Michael the Archangel).
The procession ends with the traditional fireworks.
The Feast of San Calogero in Agrigento
The festival takes place in the first week of July. The most devout faithful, during the celebrations, usually observe the dijunu addumannatu, fasting interrupted only by the bread received in alms. A very popular event during the festivities is the so-called tammurinata di San Calò, the devotees, gathered in a circle, beat the drums in a race through the streets of the town.
During the actual feast, the saint’s simulacrum is carried by the faithful through the streets, while muffoletti, votive loaves symbolizing abundance, are thrown from the balconies.
The Feast of St.John the Baptist in Ragusa
The patron saint of upper Ragusa is celebrated on 29 August. This festival is steeped in original rituals and customs. During the eve, fresh broad beans are eaten, which symbolize forgiven sins. The girls usually collect the San Giuanni ciuri, flowers that are then planted outdoors while various prayers are recited to ask for the saint’s protection. Finally, it is customary to collect the pulley, but a fragrant plant that is kept in the dark and transplanted into the crib with the hope that it will become green again.
Feast of Our Lady of the Letter in Messina
June 3 is the Feast of Our Lady of the Letter, patron saint of the city of Messina. Tradition has it that after St. Paul’s preaching in Messina, some ambassadors from the same city went together with Paul to Jerusalem, to pay homage to the “mater Salvatoris”.
We are in 41 A.D. The Virgin Mary, grateful to the sensitivity of the Messinesi who came to her feet, sent through them a letter dedicated to the city of Messina and its inhabitants. The Virgin proclaimed herself protector of the city of Messina and tied the letter with a lock of her hair.
The procession of the Mysteries of Trapani
In medieval times, it was customary to represent episodes of faith taken from the Old and New Testament, with the name “mystery” they wanted to make the event even more mystical. The secular but always current “Procession of the Mysteries” of Trapani also originates from here.
Since the fifteenth century in Spain the so-called “teatro de los mysteros”, represented
to the Catholic people these scenes in procession. During the Iberian domination (from 1412 to 1713), these traditions of strong popular impact were also established in Sicily.
A historically verified fact is that until 1594, in Trapani, there was no trace of any ceremony for Good Friday except for the now disappeared Procession of the Marys which, among the religious rites of the time, is the most similar to the Mysteries can be found.
For almost four centuries the “Procession of the Mysteries” in Trapani, on Good Friday, continues to thrill an entire population by re-proposing centuries-old traditions that have their roots in Mediterranean and Spanish history in particular.
The Passion and Death of Christ were artistically represented in twenty sculptural representations. It is the overall vision that makes each of these representations unique. Each statue, in fact, was placed on a wooden base called “VARA”.
The eighteen statuary groups, together with the simulacra of “Jesus in the Urn” and “L’Addolorata” that close the procession, represent the various stages of the Via Crucis with all the characters who, according to the Gospel, at that moment accompanied the Christ.
The art of the Trapanese Master Craftsmen who created the twenty groups of the procession, however, is not limited only to the manufacture of the statues and characters, but also extends to the precious carvings that embellish some vaults with reproductions of cherubs, of views of the city of Trapani and also of the symbols of the various classes of belonging.
If for 400 years the statuary groups have always been the same, what changes in each procession is their floral decoration. The statues are embellished with beautifully crafted ancient silver artifacts. The play of light and shadow is also particularly cared for in order to make the movements of pain and suffering that the Trapani craftsmen have been able to immortalize in the faces of the ancient statues even more real.
Dignitaries of this ancient knowledge are the “CONSULS”, that is the volunteers who with passion and self-denial take on all the responsibilities relating to the decoration and management of each single Mystery. The Consuls elect the “CHIEF” who is certainly one of the most coveted positions in the entire organization.
As mentioned, the Procession of the Mysteries, which lasts almost twenty-four hours, is entirely transported “on the shoulder” through the city streets. Each statuary group is raised and led by no less than ten men called “MASSARI”. Organized in “TEAMS”, one for “each Mystery, the massari move in synchrony with the commands of the” CAPORALE “, that is the farmer who has the most coveted task of holding the” CIACCULA “.
Two pieces of wood as wide as a hand, fixed at one end with two cords, to a third piece of wood equipped with a handle which, when shaken by the corporal, produces a characteristic sound similar to the Spanish “troccole” or “castanuelas”.
To the sound of music, the so-called “BATTUTE” takes place, that is the period in which every Mystery is annacated to the rhythm of a funeral march. During a joke, or even during a stop, the statuary group can be turned towards a specific spectator who assists on the sides of the procession, who, flattered by this “VUTATA” or “ATTUNNIATA”, can only reciprocate the gesture of the massari with a generous offer called “PICACCIA”.
Over the years, even the costumes of the processioners and the uniforms of the massari have undergone changes. Originally, the massari wore the so-called “CASACCHE”: long blue or gray aprons to which a characteristic beret with ponpon was also added. However, today it is not uncommon to see porters in elegant uniforms. To complete the choreography of each group, there are then the “FIGURANTI”, that is the devotees in costume who with candles and more, precede the launch. One of the most recent changes in this regard dates back to a few years ago, when, by the express will of the current Bishop, the figure of the “INCAPPUCCIATI” was abolished from the procession.
As for the musical accompaniments which, as mentioned, are an integral part of this event, the small groups of five or six singers who once accompanied each group, around 1800 were gradually replaced by bands. The classical repertoire performed by the various bands is simply known to the people of Trapani as “a musica ri Misteri”, but among the scores you can see authentic pieces by the author. Among the many slow and deep marches, recognizable by enthusiasts from the first note, we remember: “A.VELLA”; “POOR FLOWER”; “A CATANISA”; “CHOPIN’S FUNERAL MARCH”; “JONE”; “IN LOMBARDO”; “FATALITY”. At the sound of these grave melodies, the two most touching moments of the entire procession also take place: the “NISCIUTA” or the exit and the “TRASUTA”, the entrance. These are the two moments of greeting to the faithful by the Sacred Groups: the first occurs, when the group leaves the Church where it rested for a whole year, the second, however, at the end of the procession, which lasted almost 24 hours, when the group it returns to the same church where it will be kept until the following Good Friday.
The preparation for the Procession of the Mysteries is also very suggestive, characterized by the so-called “SCINNUTE”, a rite that dates back to 1600. In practice, on the six Fridays of Lent each of the Sacred Groups, accompanied by the musical band, is descended (scinnuto) from the niche where he rested throughout the year and led to the altar where the Holy Mass will be celebrated.