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St. Agatha feast in CataniaThe feast of St. Agatha in Catania is among the most important Sicilian religious feasts. The most important celebrations are from 3rd till 5th February, every year. In these days the traditional religious procession with the relics of St. Agatha takes place. Every year a lot of devouts, pilgrims but also tourists visit the feast in Catania. Approximately one million people partecipates every year at this religious and folkloristic event. It is impressive to see the procession of the relics, a tradition which is hundreds of years old, walk through Catania and its panorama of baroque churches and modern buildings.
The feast is deeply felt by the population because St. Agatha was a Christian martyr who lived in Catania in the 3rd century A.D. The procession goes through the places of Agatha's legend. During the middleage the relics were brought to Costantinople but in the year 1126 they returned to Catania, so, nowadays they are the highlight of the feast. Let's see how the event runs:

 

 

The offering of wax - February 3d
This is the first day with  a processions during the feast. During this day the relics and the silver carriage remain in the cathedral. This is the procession of the "candelore", giant candles with their own artistic carriage. The procession stars at St. Agatha alla Fornace church (in piazza Stesicoro, the traditional place of the death of the martyr) and ends at the cathedral. It's not the main procession but it is a solemn and impressive event too, according to the best Sicilian tradition. The archbishop of Catania, the major, and the knightly orders partecipate at the procession. There are also two ancient carriages of the 18th century. The procession ends with big fireworks.


Candelore at St. Agatha feast in SicilyThe Candelore

The candelore are giant candles which are a tradition of the feast of St. Agatha in Catania. The candles are putted on artistica carriages. The candelore go before the silver carriage of St. Agatha during the procession. In the past the candelore were used to illuminate the streets Nowaday 11 candelore are used but in the past they where  more. They are carried by the traditional craftsmen guilds (gardeners, grocers, bakers e.g. Each carriage has a traditional position during the procession and an own particuar decoration in different artistic styles. Each candelora has also its own music and walking style and popular names like "bersagliera" or "mamma".

 

The "outer" quarters procession - February 4th
This is the first day where the relics exit from the cathedral of Catania. The day begins with the "Mass of dawn" followed by the opening of the gates of St. Agatha's chapel. Three keys, owned by different people, are necessary to open the  gate which gives access to the relics and to the valuable treasure of St. Agatha. The relics are contained in a silver casket and in a silver bust. The treasure is composed also by precious jewelry like a crown donated by Richard Lionheart. The exit of the relics from the cathedral is celebrated by waving of white handkerchiefs and fireworks. Then, the procession begins. The devout wear traditional clothes: a white sackcloth, black beret and white gloves. The carriage, named "fercolo" or "vara" is embellished by red St. Agatha procession in Cataniacarnations (the next day they'll be white). The path of the procession passes by some important landmarks of Catania, linked with the legend of Agata: the St. Agatha al carcere church, the St. Agata alla fornace church and the St. Agatha la vetere church. The climbing of the "salita dei cappuccini" is impressive. At late night the relics return to the cathedral and a new firework takes place.

 

The "inner" quarters procession - February 5th
After lunch there is a religious procession from the archbishop's palace at the presence of a cardinal sended by the Vatican. In the late afternoon the last procession begins climbing Catania's main street, via Etnea. The highlights of this procession are the passage at the St. Agatha al borgo church with fireworks and the climbing of via San Giuliano. It's a very difficult moment because it is a steep street and the carriage with St. Agathas relics carried by the devouts is very heavy. With the much people which visit the event it is also a little dangerous and in past years some people were wounded. The relics return to the cathedral in the morning of February 6th but sometimes the procession is so slow that the carriage arrives about 12.


The St. Agatha market
During the week of the feast the St. Agatha market takes place too. People love it because it is possible to do low-cost shopping. Clothes, shoes, toys... quiet everything is sold at the market. Most times it is located at Giardino Bellini area..

St. Agatha traditional cakes in SicilyTypical St. Agatha's cakes

St. Agatha's feast has also its traditional cakes, related with the legend. Two cakes are typical: the "cassatelle di Sant'Agata" and the "olivette". The cassatelle aspect remembers women breast's and they are related with the legend of the tortures of Agatha who were wrenched the breasts. The cake is made with sponge cake, ricotta cheese, chocolate and candied fruit. A red candied cherry completes the cake. The olivette are little, round, green cakes which remember olives. They are made with almon pastry and sugar.


Driving and parking

Due to the huge quantity of visitors, during the days of the feast is traffic prohibition in the city centre. The exact area varies every day according to the procession itinerary and is published on the official website of the city of Catania. If travelling with a car you should park it at the authorized parkings and move with public transport.

 

St. Agatha's feast program

Below you'll find the highlight's of St. Agatha's feast 2017. The complete religious program can be found on the website of the city of Catania.

February 3rd


12:00 pm - Offering of the wax procession (St. Agatha alla fornace church to the cathedral)

February 4th

6:00 am - Cathedral, Mass of dawn
7:00 am - Procession of the relics of St. Agatha from the cathedral

 

February 5th

8.00 am - Cathedral, Relics exposition
10.15 am - Religious procession (from archbishop's palace to cathedral)
5.00 pm - Procession of the relics with fireworks in piazza Duomo, Villa Pacini and piazza Cavour.


 

Photo credits: giopuo/Flickr; euart/Flickr: Peppe64/Wikipedia; S.Mortellaro/Wikipedia - tutte le immagini sono rilasciate sotto licenza creative commons o GNU

Text credits: Sicily-Holiday.com





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