THE GLOBAL VILLAGE
Itís a three-day celebration of cult, devotion,
folklore, and tradition that stand almost alone in the world, which
happens every year from February 3rd to February 5th.
It is believed that only the Holy Week in Seville, and the
corpus Domini ceremony in Cuzco, Peru, may be compared in terms of
popularity, to the festivities that since 5 centuries have been held in
St. Agatha's honour. For three days, almost a million Catanians and
tourists swarm in the streets. During those intense days, Catania turns
into one and only crowd marching behind the Patron. St. Agatha is
Christian martyr, born in Catania, who resisted the advances of a Roman
prefect sent to govern Sicily. After brutal torture she was sent to the
stake, but as the fire was lighted a great earthquake occurred, and the
crowd demanded her release. She was then led away to prison, where she
died around the 6th century.
4th and 5th of February stand out among the three days of festivities,
when St. Agatha passes through the eight neighbourhoods on her silver
carriage (Catanians call it, specifically, "fercolo" or, more
first day of celebration, the 3rd of February, develops itself into
three distinct moments: the long and solemn Midday procession for
"the offering of wax" to which civil, religious and militar
authorities all attend bearing the standards of the City, the Province,
and the University. From the Cathedral, the procession cuts through two
lines of a huge crowd. Eleven "candelore" (large candle shaped
structures), symbolizing the guilds, and two carriages belonging to the
old Catanian Senate, bring up the rear. In the afternoon, at 3.00 PM,
St. Agatha's international cross-country race takes place through the
old and new streets of the town-centre. Finally, in the evening, later
than 8.00 PM, beautiful fireworks are on display.
The carriage carrying the reliquary-bust and the finely wrought silver
casket containing other relics, starts covering the route crossing
through the city center to the place where St. Agatha supposedly was
born. The route continues through places that are extremely dear to
Catanians; in these ancient sites, Agatha was imprisoned and tortured,
dying in atrocious sufferings. There, another spectacular moment:
thousands of devotees run and drag the heavy carriage along a slope (salita
dei Cappuccini), stopping once halfway to pay homage to the Sacred Gaol.
In the evening, the run takes place downtown where the festivities are
felt in a different way: all private houses are open and well-lit,
coffee-houses are crowded all night long. Music is heard everywhere,
streets are crowded with stalls and booths where all sorts of sweets are
sold, and mobile grids where horse meat is roasted. Balconies are
well-lit, kiosks are strewn with flowers and embellished with St.
Agatha's effigy, while shop-windows display artistic reproductions of
the "candelore". Almost at dawn, magnificent fireworks welcome
the Saint on her way back to the Cathedral.
a few hours of sleep: in the late morning of the 5th. of February (the
climax of the festivity), a Pontifical Mass is celebrated by a specially
The eleven, richly adorned "candelore" lead the procession,
being followed by 700 devotees holding torches: then the white river of
devotees follows. They all drag the "vara" and sing the
praises of the Patron ("We are all, all devotees. Citizens, long
live St. Agatha!"). The City bell tolls, announcing the Mayor's
homage to the Saint. In the evening, people crowd together again to
attend further fireworks (also known as "the fireworks of the
evening of three"); soon after the crowd follows and escorts the
"candelore" in an "endurance race" along the slope
of "salita di San Giuliano".
Time goes by, and the setting sun gives way to the night: St. Agatha
patiently awaits for the end of the contest, at the crossing of via
Etnea and via di San Giuliano: it's the "final pull", that
should bring the festivity to an end, with an enthusiastic applause of
relief. The race is an event mostly reserved to young people: strong
arms and legs are needed to drag the several tons of the "vara".
Taking part to the race is a mark of love and devotion that should non
be underrated: doing it in "one go" allows to draw favorable auspices
for the year, since the real New Years Day in Catania falls on
the 5th of February; once, contracts and deeds were actually started or
delivered on such a date.
huge "candelore" and a smaller one, now lead the procession. A
candelabrum in memory of cardinal Ventimiglia comes first, being
followed by the "candelora" (decorated with four griffins at
the basement) offered by the inhabitants of San Giuseppe La Rena. Then
the candelabrum of the Floriculturists follows, in Gothic style,
portraying statues of Catanian martyrs and bishops: once it was toped
with a bouquet of flowers, now replaced by a bow.
"candelora " representing Fishmongers comes next: it is in
rococo style and bears votive offerings and a statue of St. Francis of
Paola, patron of fishermen and sailors. The other "candelore"
represent Greengrocers (it bears a bust of St. Agatha), Butchers (it
displays a small bouquet of flowers), Makers of Pasta (an
eighteenth-century candlestick), Grocers (in liberty style, decorated
with characteristic caryatids at the basement), Bakers (the heaviest,
carried by twelve people, instead of eight, and displaying human-height
statues of angels), Vintners (carried by ten people and displaying four
lions and griffins at the basement).
cult of St. Agatha is non strictly Catanian: the Saint is venerated all
over the world (Malta, Spain, Germany, France, Greece). St. Agatha is
the Patron of 44 Italian municipalities, and 14 of them bear her name.