Sunday, February 12, 2006

Agata Lives!

Every February, the Feast of Sant Agata (St. Agatha in English), is celebrated in Catania. It is Italy's largest religious festival, drawing over a million visitors over the course of the week. Here is a first-hand account by guest bloggers Jan and Flint Sibayan, who this year witnessed the beginning of the massive procession that wends continuously through the city for days:

0600 Saturday, February 4, 2006…the feast of Catania’s patron saint begins with Mass. We stood in Piazza Duomo (aka Elephant Square) earlier, not wanting to miss the appearance of St. Agata's carriage, relics, and jeweled bust that hundreds of devoted Catanese would pull around the city for the next two days.

The candelore came first . . . eleven decorative pieces, each rather garishly depicting Agata’s short, eventful-in-her last-day’s life, along with cherubs, saints, chandelier crystals and lights leave the Cattedrale. Honored members among fruit vendors, fish mongers, pasta makers, and other occupations precede Agata in her route around town. The ornate carriage exits from the Diocesan museum next door to the cathedral . . . the crowd applauds. Several minutes later, the silver casket holding Agata’s precious relics are placed on the carriage . . . more applause . . . then the bust of Agata covered with thank-you gifts of jewels enters the crowd’s sight to be placed on the carriage . . . fireworks are accompanied by thunderous applause. The men who mill around the crowd in their white tunics, black caps, gloves and Agata medallions strung on green/red ribbon around every neck (old ones are metal; new ones are plastic) gather to pull Agata through the streets with the long, thick ropes attached to the carriage.

Going to Via Dusmet and standing in front of the formerly headless statue, our view for the candelore and Agata is the best. The crowd mingles pleasantly awaiting the first candelore to move. The candelore are heavy. The selected crew has a signal where all lift together. Seemingly, the most out-of-shape men are singled out for the honor of carrying this object (maybe part of their health benefit program, but the occasional cigarette hanging out of the corner of the mouth during this exercise . . . well, maybe not). Eventually they do move out. Agata follows slowly as adoring devotees pull her along with two thick ropes that are at least 250 feet long. The bishop and priests wave to the crowd, and the carriage stops for pilgrims to hand candles to men on the back of the carriage. At occasional intersections, trucks accept the burned candles, making room for more. (In previous years, we watched people pass infants over the crowd, fifteen to twenty deep, so the priest could touch the infant to the statue.) The procession moves slowly by the arches, people crane their necks out of the passing train, more fireworks and for the moment all seems right with the world!

St. Agata is considered the patron of nurses, foundry workers, and one invoked against breast diseases. Date of her death was around 251.


At March 14, 2006 11:08 PM, Blogger Sicilian Mama said...

Thanks for the pics....I have never ben there before! s. mama


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