The procession

Every year on 3, 4 and 5 February Catania offers its patron saint such an extraordinary feast that it can only be compared to Holy Week in Seville or Corpus Christi in Cuzco, Peru.

Published on:

19 April 2022

Last revision:

7 December 2022

Every year on 3, 4 and 5 February Catania offers its patron saint such an extraordinary feast that it can only be compared to Holy Week in Seville or Corpus Christi in Cuzco, Peru. In those three days the city forgets everything to focus on the festival, a mixture of devotion and folklore, which attracts up to a million people every year, devotees and curious. The first day is reserved for the offer of candles. A suggestive popular custom wants the donated candles to be as tall or heavy as the person asking for protection. The procession for the collection of wax, a short ride from the furnace to the cathedral, is attended by the major religious, civil and military authorities. Two eighteenth-century carriages, which once belonged to the senate that ruled the city, and eleven " candelore ", large candles representing the guilds or trades, are carried in procession. This first day of celebration ends in the evening choirs a grandiose show of fireworks in Piazza Duomo. The fireworks during the feast of Saint Agatha, in addition to expressing the great joy of the faithful, take on a particular meaning, because they remind that the patron, martyred on the embers, always watches over the fire of Etna and all the fires.
February 4 is the most exciting day, because it marks the first meeting of the city with the patron saint. Already from the early hours of dawn the streets of the city are populated with " citizens ". They are devotees wearing the traditional " sack " (a votive white canvas coat long to the ankle and tight at the waist by a cord), a black velvet cap, white gloves and wave a handkerchief also white ironed in thick folds. It represents the nightwear that the people of Catania wore when, in 1126, they ran towards the relics that Gisliberto and Goselmo brought back from Constantinople. But the original nightgown, over the centuries, has also been enriched by the meaning of penitential dress: according to some the white canvas dress is the reinterpretation of a liturgical dress, the black cap would remember the ash of which the penitents sprinkled their heads and the cord in life It would bring the hair. Three different keys, each guarded by a different person, are needed to open the iron gate that protects the relics in the cathedral: one is kept by the treasurer, the second the master of ceremonies, the third the prior of the chapter) of the cathedral. When the third key removes the last send to the gate of the room in which the bust is kept, and the sacellum is opened, the smiling and serene face of Saint Agatha looks out of the bedroom in the growing riot of the faithful eager to see her again. Shimmering with gold and precious gems, the bust of Saint Agatha is hoisted on the Renaissance silver fercle, lined with red velvet, the color of the blood of martyrdom, but also the color of the kings. Before leaving the cathedral for the traditional procession along the streets of the city, Catania welcomes its patroness with a solemn mass, celebrated by the archbishop. Among the roars of gunfire, the coffin is loaded with precious casket with relics and carried in procession through the city
The " round ", the procession of the day 4, lasts the whole day. The fercolo crosses the places of martyrdom and traces the events of the history of the "Santuzza" that are intertwined with that of the city: the cathedral, the places of martyrdom, traveled quickly, without stops, as if to avoid the saint the renewal of the sad memory. A stop is also made at the " marina " from which the people of Catania, pained and helpless, saw the relics of the saint leave for Constantinople. Then a stop at the column of the plague, which recalls the miracle performed by Saint Agatha in 1743, when the city was spared the epidemic. The " citizens " lead the fercolo through the crowd that crowd along the streets and squares. Four thousand or five thousand pull the heavy machine. All strictly wear the votive sack and in small steps among the crowd drag the fercolo that, empty, weighs 17 quintals, but, weighed with Casket, Bust and load of wax, can weigh up to 30 quintals. With a rhythmic rhythm they cry out: "citizens, viva sant'Agata ", a hosanna that also means: "sant'Agata è viva " in the crowd. The " tour " ends late at night when the fercolo returns to the cathedral.

On the fercolo of February 5, the red carnations of the previous day (symbolizing martyrdom), are replaced by white ones (representing purity). In the late morning, the pontifical is celebrated in the cathedral. At sunset begins the second part of the procession that winds through the streets of the center of Catania, also crossing the " Borgo ", the neighborhood that welcomed refugees from Misterbianco after the eruption of 1669. The most awaited moment is the passage through the Via di San Giuliano, which for the slope is the most dangerous point of the whole procession. It represents a test of courage for the " citizens ", but it is also interpreted - depending on how the "obstacle" is overcome - as a heavenly sign of good or bad omen for the whole year. Late at night fireworks mark the end of the festivities. When Catania returns to the room in the cathedral the reliquary and the casket, the white bags no longer smell of laundry, the faces are marked by fatigue, the muscles hurt, the voice is reduced to a thin thread. But the satisfaction of having carried in triumph the body of Saint Agatha through the streets of her Catania fills everyone with joy and repays those efforts. It will be necessary to wait several months (the feast of August 17), or another year (the feast of February 5), to be able to see smiling once again the good face of the saint who was a martyr for the salvation of the faith and of Catania.