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A Message from the State 3rd Vice President

Sadie Tamburine

  • 8 February 2021
  • Author: News Editor
  • Number of views: 55
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A Message from the State 3rd Vice President

Greetings brothers and sisters. I hope all is staying safe during these difficult times. Thought I would share the treasured story of Saint Agatha as her feast day is celebrated every February in Catania, Sicily. For centuries, from the 3rd to the 5th of February each year, Catania goes through a unique experience. A whirlwind of strong emotions accompanying the three incredible days dedicated to the “Santuzza”, as the locals name it, that involve thousands of devotees every year. They are eventful days full of faith, tradition, and devotion, a Feast that is quite unique in the world; the only comparison can be the Holy Week in Seville, Spain, or the Corpus Domini in Cuzco, Peru. During these three days, the whole town is abuzz for the patron Saint’s Festival, the young Agatha, virgin and martyr from Catania, whose amazing story can touch every heart. The girl, a young and beautiful Christian coming from an aristocratic family, resisted the flattery of the Governor Quintianus, and struggled against his abuse of power to defend her faith and her moral integrity. However, the cost of this choice led to a painful martyrdom (above all the cutting off her breasts and even her life). She is remembered for miracles related to Mount Etna eruptions, earthquakes and some epidemics affecting Catania. The story goes that on February 1, 252 (Agata had died the year before), the city was threatened by a violent eruption. The inhabitants of the nearby villages, terrified, took the veil that was wrapped around her tomb, and used it as a shield against the lava flow. The white veil suddenly turned red and stopped the eruption. It was February 5, the anniversary of her martyrdom. Catania was rescued and, from then on, the city, splendidly lit up with fairy lights, is crowded every year with visitors and devotees from all over the world while Saint Agata, in her silver cart, the “vara”, goes to meet her people, throughout the town. The Festival begins on February 3 with a long and solemn procession at noon that goes from the Church of Sant’Agata alla Fornace up to the Cathedral, where the offering of the wax rite takes place. Eleven big candles, representing some local guilds, and the two Senate carriages close the procession: an eighteenth-century sedan, followed by a smaller car, carry the city’s administrators. In that same evening, ‘a sira’ u tri, a spectacular fireworks show is held in Piazza Duomo. In the early hours of February 4, after the Messa dell’ Aurora (Dawn Holy Mass), the bust of Saint Agata leaves the safe room inside the Cathedral where it is permanently kept. This is the most beautiful climax to the crowd’s anticipation: people are strongly moved and, among their shouts and applauses, the procession begins accompanied by religious songs. The Saint and her relics are brought outside the ancient city walls, drawn by a silver carriage. The procession first moves towards the church of Sant’Agata alla Fornace, where her martyrdom took place, then to Sant’Agata al Carcere; there, an olive tree recalls how the virgin, escaping from the men of Quintianus, managed to feed herself thanks to its fruits. Running quickly while dragging the heavy carriage up to the “Cappuccini slope” is an ancient tradition too; in the meantime, the townspeople from Catania, with their traditional black skullcaps and votive white tunics, named ‘u saccu, wave a white handkerchief and invoke their Patron Saint: “Tutti devoti tutti, cittadini, viva Sant’Agata”. Followed by a firework show. February 5 is the “peak” of the feast, the most eagerly awaited day by everybody. In the afternoon, the cart leaves Piazza Duomo to tour inside the city; it advances very slowly and crossing via Etnea it moves ahead up to piazza Università. It then moves towards piazza Stesicoro and, further, to Villa Bellini. The cart reaches Piazza Cavour – Piazza Borgo for people from Catania – late at night. After a long and spectacular firework show, the “vara” reaches the cross between “Quattro canti” and the San Giuliano slope. Here an exciting game of endurance of all candelore precedes “la corsa del cordone” a cord pulled by thousands of townspeople (if all goes well, that means a good harvest next year). The race ends at the intersection with Via Crociferi, where the beautiful singing of the cloistered Benedictine nuns pays homage to the Saint. At daylight it is

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