The processions held in honour of the Patron Saints in many Sicilian towns and villages can evoke a mixture of bewilderment, fear and disbelief, especially for those seeing them for the first time. The devotees, who carry the heavy platforms dedicated to the Saints on their shoulders, are proud to display their strain and they pronounce out loud the name of the Saint, shouting their devotion, as if they were animated by a mysterious supernatural force. These celebrations have an ancient character to them and they speak of indissoluble bonds with remote religious or even pagan beliefs.
In Catania from the 3rd to the 5th of February there is the celebration in honour of Saint Agata, patron Saint of the city. This feast day brings in a great number of visitors from the surrounding area. It is the third most visited celebration in the world!
According to tradition, the day the Saint died a violent earthquake was heard in Catania and during the celebrations of the first anniversary of her death, a river of lava ran from Mount Etna in the direction of the city but it stopped all of a sudden when the veil of the Saint was held up in the procession. Saint Agata is still invoked today in order to stop the eruptions of Mount Etna and a strip of red curtain is shown every time the lava endangers the villages at the foot of the volcano.
The atmosphere in Catania is very impressive; the entire main streets of the historical centre are illuminated in honour of the Saint. The main focus of illuminations is in via Sangiuliano, where scenes of the Saint’s life are represented on a large panel.
The celebration of Saint Agata of Catania is characterised by the tradition of lighting votive candles and by the dress of the participants. There are twelve large and richly decorated wooden platforms which themselves represent the marriage of art and craft and they are paraded through the streets carrying a huge candle, weighing up to one tonne!! These platforms are called cannalore and they are carried on the shoulders of men who walk at a certain pace called nnacata. The devotees wear a white cotton dress called saccu, black headgear (a scuzzetta), a rope as a belt and white gloves and handkerchiefs.
Children and adults alike are attracted by the irresistible fragrance of the delicacies offered at the stands which line the streets: calia i simenza (roasted pumpkin seeds and chickpeas), also some typical local sweets like cassatelle and minnuzzi (little teats) that are shaped like the teat of the Saint which was torn torn while she was tortured, and alivetti (little olives), whose name refers to the olive tree that the Virgin hid herself behind while escaping from the Roman soldiers.
In order to be protected from natural disasters, the worshipers of Agrigento still invoke Saint Gerlando, the patron Saint of the city. In 1966 a violent landslide hit a large part of Agrigento without casualties. The worshipers interpreted this fact as a miracle from the Saint. Although Saint Gerlando is the patron Saint of Agrigento, the main celebrations in the city and the whole province are dedicated to Saint Calogero the hermit, considered to be the protector of the summer harvest. From the first to the second weeks of July, the sound of drums (tammorre) echo through the streets. You can also witness scenes of devotion, such as people walking bare feet from their homes to the sanctuary, giving thanks for grace received. Saint Calogero is also revered in Aragona and with peculiar votive offerings: breads in the shape of human limbs which are blessed and then stored away, in order to be consumed in periods of difficulty.
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