Thursday, February 4, 2010

The fervor begins - Sant'Agata

First glimpse of the Saint, in the cathedral

Waiting for the Saint to emerge

A devotee resting (notice the gloves, the melting wax burns)


The final descent towards the cathedral

The festa di Sant'Agata, Catania's patron saint, is about to begin. I probably won't be able to experience the excitement this year, but looking through our photos taken in 2002 I am swept back to a Catania transformed. It was an exciting time. We were newly married. I had only been living in Rome for a few months. My husband wanted to share this experience with me and also experience it in a way he himself had never done growing up here. So we followed Sant'Agata through the city, all three days of the event. Not continuously, like true devotees. But back and forth we traveled on Feb 4, 5 and 6 to witness this incredibly moving event. We documented the experience with photos, slides, and sound recordings, fully succumbing to the excitement. We saw the saint emerge from the cathedral, where she is hidden away for the entire year only to come out for this holy event. The devotees, dressed in white robes, black velvet caps, waving white handkerchiefs (which do have symbolic meaning which you can read about in the link if you read Italian), wait impatiently inside, outside, wherever they can squeeze their bodies, to have the long-awaited first glimpse of their beloved saint. The noise!!!! It is deafening. They scream and cry with emotion 'Siamo tutti devoti tutti' (we are all devotees, all of us!!!) and it goes on and on. The saint is carried through the streets of Catania. Everyone crowds her waiting to touch her to give an offering, to light a candle, to have their child blessed. She is followed and lead and dragged through the narrow streets at a snail's pace. There are lights, vendors, balloons, crowds. The sun rises and sets and it continues. The 11 canderole (huge candles encased in elaborate wooden sculptures that originally functioned to light the way for the procession) proceed the saint, the weight of each carried on the shoulders of groups of men representing specific professions (fishermen, florists, etc.), who grunt along, pausing, moving forward, accepting offerings, as they make their way along the procession. And then there are the individual devotees, who express their devotion and thanks to the saint by carrying candles in the procession, small and large. The larger the candle, the bigger the miracle performed by the saint, the greater the gratitude to be expressed by the devotee. And finally, after hours and hours of this unending fervor, the saint is returned to the cathedral, where the devotees mourn her re-entry. They weep and cry for they do not want to see their beloved go away.


  1. A wonderful account which makes it almost like being immersed in the crowd pushing and shoving to get a closer glimpse of her.

  2. Thank you for this timely and descriptive post, Karen...can't wait to experience it for ourselves tomorrow night.

  3. That's right it's Saint Agatha's day :^) I would love to see this someday... My cousin from Catania brought me a little prayer (?) card from the church and I have it sitting on my shelf symbolically, just like my nana. I like that she is the patron saint of breast cancer - a good saint to have hanging around...

  4. This post brought me right back to the festival. It is amazing to see the small children carry the canderole that are larger than they are! If you go this year, try the green olivette di Sant’Agata that are made with marzipan or the cassatine. Yum!

  5. One of my favorite Sicilian festivals. Thanks for the memory flashback!


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