Between devotion and folklore. The feast of St. Agatha, patroness of Catania, is one of the most important patronal feast in the world and it lasts three days, from the 3rd to the 5th February 2018. In these three days, the inhabitants forget everything and focus on the festival, which attract millions of people every year, both devote and curious ones.
The first day is reserved for the candles’ offer: a popular tradition says that the candle should be as tall and heavy as the person who carries it. After that, two eighteenth-century carriages, that in the past were property of the senate of the city, and eleven “candelore”, big candles, conduct a procession. This first day ends with the show of firework in Piazza Duomo. These fireworks represent the faithfuls’ joy and they take a particular meaning because they remember that the patroness, martyr on the ember, watches over the Etna and over the fire of fires.
On 4th February is the most exciting day, because the first meeting between the inhabitants and the patroness happens. At dawn the streets are populated by the people: they are the faithfuls that wear the traditional “sack”, a black cap, white gloves and they wave a white handkerchief. Three different keys, which are kept by different people, are needed to open the iron gate which preserve the Saint’s relics in the Cathedral. When the third key open the room of the gate where the Bust is guarded, Saint Agatha faces to the triumph of the faithfuls. Shimmering with gold and precious gems, Saint agatha Bust’s is hoisted on a silver Renaissance fercolo, lined with red velvet, which is the colour of the martyrdom. Before leaving the Cathedral for the procession in the town streets, Catania welcomes its patroness with the solemn “Messa dell’Aurora”. After that, the Saint’s relics are carried for the procession through the streets, while the citizens celebrate. The procession through the town lasts teh entire day: the fercolo go through the stages of Agatha’s life, from Duomo to the martyrdom’s places, from the marina to the Plague Column, where agatha performed the miracle in order to save the city from the epidemic.
On 5th February, the red carnations of the previous day on the fercolo (simbolyzing the martyrdom) are replaced by the white ones (which represent the purity). At sunset, the procession’s second part begins through the city centre. The most awaited moment is the passage through Saint Giuliano Street, which is the most dangerous place because of its slope: the fercolo, containing the bust and the casket, weights around thirty quintals. It represents a proof of courage for the citizens, because the overcoming of the obstacle indicates a good or bad omen for the whole year.
At dawn on 6th February, the fercolo with the relics arrives in Crociferi Street: it’s the moment when the patroness greets her citizens before the ending of the festivities. All night long, tousands of citizens challenge the cold of the night screaming “Saint Agatha”: it’s a moment full of magic and spirituality. At this point, the angelic song of the cloistered nuns starts. At night the fireworks mark the ending of the festivities. When the citizens bring back the relics in the Cathedral’s room, their faces are tired and they are voiceless, but they are satisfied because they brought through the city Saint Agatha’s relics.
During the festivities, you can find the traditional sweets related to the patroness’ feast. Besides the famous “calia” and “simenza”, which are present in all the festivities in Catania, in these days there are two sweets that are prepared for the Saint Agatha’s feast: “Cassateddi di Sant’Aita” and “Olivette”.