The 5th of February we celebrate the feast of Sant’Agata in Catania. It’s the third most important religious feast in the world for the number of participants! In fact, it lasts for three entire days, starting in the evening of the 3rd of February and ending the 5th.
If you have been in Catania in January, you have certainly noticed a sort of “turmoil” between the locals. Starting from the middle of the month, in fact, everybody is preparing for the big feast of Sant’Agata.
Here we’ll describe what are the highlights of this big celebration that involve all the population.
Then, if you are interested in knowing more about the feast and visiting the sites of the martyrdom of Sant’Agata, book our Sant’Agata Tour.
How do we celebrate the feast of Sant’Agata in Catania – All the highlights of the feast
1.The statue of Sant’Agata
The bust of the Saint is conserved in the Saint Chapel, inside the Cathedral (Duomo). Only in two occasions people can see it: during the main feast processions, the 3,4, and 5th of February, and the 17th of August.
The reliquary bust of Sant ’Agata, venerated by the people of Catania, is a precious work of art, a masterpiece of medieval silverware created to contain the most important of the relics, that is the head of Sant’ Agata.
Made of embossed silver with precious inserts in translucent enamel, it was forged between 1373 and 1376. Today it is entirely covered by many ex-votos, donated to the Saint over the centuries, including a ring of Pope Gregory X, the Cross of the Legion of Honour belonged to Vincenzo Bellini and a valuable crown that tradition binds to the name of Richard the Lionheart.
With their unmistakable “annacata” (a sort of rocking), the candelore of Sant’Agata are one of the most eloquent symbols of the feast. Built in wood with different colors and styles, the 12 Candelore (candlesticks) go around the city the days before the feast, representing the arts and crafts; they will put themselves in an orderly procession in the culmination of the celebrations.
Once upon a time, when electric lighting was not invented yet, the candlesticks had the function of illuminating the steps of the participants in the procession. The people, always close to the Saint of Catania, wanted to participate actively in the feast of Sant’Agata and they crafted 300 wood “candles”, representing associations of various categories of workers. Weighing up to 900 kg and carried on the shoulder from 4 to 12 men (the number varies according to weight), today the candelore are 12 in total.
One of the highest moments of the Feast are the fireworks on the 3rd night, in Piazza Duomo. I can still remember the first time I saw them. I was petrified in front of the crowd and the magic show in the main square…
Imagine thousands of people pressed in a relatively small space, everybody looking at the sky, and the fireworks exploding at the rhythm of a music played by a live orchestra. Something special. Something you’ll remember for the entire life.
4.The San Giuliano slope
The bust of Sant’Agata, during the religious procession, is placed on a special “fercolo” (a sort of carriage on wheels); and the devotes pull it with ropes, or carry it on shoulders.
One of the most difficult passages of the procession is the last day, when the fercolo (which weighs more than 2000 kilos) has to be pulled on a steep ascent, Via San Giuliano. Every year there are doubts about making or not this passage, because of the danger it represents. The number of people that assist the procession is very high, and the weight is enormous…
If you want to have an idea of what the feast of Sant’Agata in Catania is for real, look at this video of the 2019 edition.
5.The Nuns’ choir in Via Crociferi
When the Saint arrives in Via Crociferi (one of the most monumental streets of Catania), it stops in front of the San Benedetto Church. Here the Benedictines Nuns (cloistered) show themselves for a unique occasion to sing a holy song dedicated to Sant’Agata.
6. The white robes
Do you know why all the devotes are used to wear a white robe during the feast of Sant’Agata in Catania? There are many theories, but one of the most accredited is that this white robe (called “sacco”) remembers the nightgown that people from Catania worn the night of the 17th August 1126, when the relics of the Saint were coming back from Costantinopoli.
7. The “olivelle” and the “minnuzze”
And now… dulcis in fundo… The sweetest part of the feast! The pastries typical of the Feast of Sant’Agata in Catania.
There are two typical dessert: the Olivelle and the Minnuzze (or cassatelle). The main ingredient is the almond flour, and they represent phases of the martyrdom.
The olivelle (little olives) relate to an episode narrated in the hagiography of the Saint. While the soldiers of Quinziano were wanting her, she bended to tie a shoe and she saw rise in front of her a plant of wild olive tree. Fortunately, it hid her from the sight of the guards and gave her some fruits to eat.
The minnuzze (little breasts) are a small dessert. They are white, rounded, with an unmistakable shape. In fact, they remember the breast of Sant’Agata! The soldiers cut Sant’Agata breast with tongs during one of the tortures of her martyrdom. So, devotes invented this dessert to remember the torture. They are real Cassate, with ricotta cheese, sugar, candied orange, chocolate, and with a small cherry on the top.
These delicacies are absolutely to taste! Check our walk&taste tour to try this and other type of local street food!
Well… these are the highlights of the Feast of Sant’Agata in Catania. The better way to know more about it is to come to Sicily! What are waiting for? Book your next holiday in the biggest island of the Mediterranean Sea!
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