Catania's Most Beloved Religious Festival: Feast of St. Agatha

When we decided to write about one of the most famous religious processions in the world, the Feast of Saint Agatha in Catania, we knew we had the right person within the ITALY team, Vincenzo Denaro Papa. Born and bred in Catania, he is not only our very talented Systems Administrator, but a true devotee of 'A Santa!'. We talked to him to find out what this celebration really means to a Catanese.

We could only agree with the first thing he told us: "Saint Agatha lived during the 3rd century AD, and yet 1,700 years later the entire city stops for three days to remember a strong girl who just said no to a man. Every year, she offers the city a chance of redemption, to show to the world that a 'different' Catania is possible. How incredible is that!"

We think this is really remarkable, so is the powerful message of the Saint's life:

"She was a teenager from a wealthy family who had decided to devote her life to God. When she refused the advances of a Roman prefect (Sicily was then under the rule of the Roman Empire), he had her tortured in many ways, including severing her breasts. This episode has even inspired a local sweet in the shape of breast, minne di Sant’Agata (St. Agatha’s breasts). After all, love and devotion in Sicily rhyme with food! In fact, besides this strangly shaped dessert, there are  many street food vendors scattered around the city selling local savoury and sweet delicacies!"

The Feast of Saint Agatha is the most important religious festival of Catania, attracting also many people from the surrounding areas and tourists – it is estimated that up to a million people line the streets of the city during the three-day festa.

"For a few days, people forget their problems, their differences, their social class and  just focus on venerating Saint Agatha in an incredible mystical atmosphere. Everyone experiences the celebration in different ways, not everyone is a religious devotee, for some it is a photo opportunity, for others the chance to visit dodgy areas of the city they would never dare to go," Vincenzo added!

The three-day festa has a long and busy program. It opens on February 3 with a midday procession of eleven candelore, large candle-shaped structures symbolizing the guilds, and two carriages belonging to the old local Senate with the highest religious and civil authorities of Catania. It ends in the evening in Piazza Duomo, where the St. Agatha Cathedral is located, with a fireworks display.

On the morning of the 4th, a statue of Saint Agatha holding her relics is placed on a 40,000 pound silver fercolo, or carriage, and carried around the city by devotees until it is returned to the Cathedral late at night, or, sometimes, even at dawn.

On the morning of the 5th, Mass is held at the Cathedral. Throughout the day, the reliquary bust of St. Agatha is exposed there. In the afternoon, it is taken for another procession, ending in the early morning of the 6th.

With such a long procession and so many different highlights, as a non-Catanese, how do you know where to go, what to do, what not to miss? 

"Actually, this is also a problem for many of the locals. During the days of the festival, devotees wander the streets day and night in search of the saint, asking themselves, “Unni ie' a' Santa?”, Where is the saint? This is why to help everyone answer the question and honor St. Agatha, I set up a website, a Facebook page and a Twitter account called Unni ie' a' Santa. Hope it will help."

So if you are visiting Catania and want to find real-time coverage of the procession, check Vincenzo's page and tell him you are a friend of ITALY Magazine!