The Feast of Saint Agatha in Catania is an Italian masterpiece
23 January 2023
The Patron Saint of Catania: Saint Agatha and its history
The story of Saint Agatha, or Sant'Agata, whom the people of Catania affectionately call Santuzza, begins in the 3rd century.
At the age of 15, Agata made a vow to God by donning the red veil worn by consecrated virgins.
As she grew up, however, the proconsul Quinziano fell in love with her, and when Agatha rejected him, he publicly accused her of being a Christian and put her on trial. She was tortured, and died on 5 February 251.
Credits: Regione Siciliana- ph. Paolo Barone
The Feast of Saint Agatha 2023 in Catania: programme and dates
3 February: the wax offering and Candlemas
The festival begins on 3 February with the wax offering and the Candlemas procession through the streets of the city centre. The tall, richly decorated Baroque candelabras represent the city's ancient guilds. They parade in a precise order and move with a gait known as 'annacata'. The 18th-century carriage of the ancient Catanese Senate is also paraded.
4 February: the Messa dell’Aurora (Dawn Mass)
From the early hours of the morning, the streets of the city and the Cathedral of Saint Agatha in Catania are crowded with devotees wearing the traditional 'sacco' (sack), a white tunic with a black cap reminiscent of the night dress in which the citizens took to the streets when the saint's relics returned to Catania in 1126.
After the mass, held at dawn, the saint's relics are transferred onto the silver ferculum, a canopy adorned with red carnations, the symbol of martyrdom, and carried in procession to Saint Agatha's sites in Catania: the ancient cathedral of Sant'Agata la Vetere, the church of Sant'Agata al Carcere and the church of Sant'Agata alla Fornace.
5 February: the procession of Saint Agatha in Catania
The procession on 5 February lasts all night long. Saint Agatha's ferculum is pulled by long white cords and now adorned with white carnations, a symbol of purity. It is followed by thousands of devotees carrying large lighted candles and shouting 'Semu tutti devoti tutti? Cettu cettu' (Are we all devout? Of course, of course), as well as tourists from all over the world.
In terms of participation, the festival can be compared to Holy Week in Seville.
The stages of the procession you should not miss
On the way, the Santuzza stops at Piazza Borgo, where a fireworks display lights up the sky. She stops again before embarking on the Via Sangiuliano climb, which she traditionally runs up. On Via Crociferi whe stops in front of the Convent of San Benedetto. The cloistered nuns come out only on this occasion, and intone a song in the silence of the early morning hours. The procession ends by returning to the cathedral.
Credits: Regione Siciliana- ph. Paolo Barone
17 August: the summer festival of Saint Agatha
17 August celebrates the return of St Agatha's relics from Constantinople in 1126. The summer festival is less lavish than the February celebrations, but very much heartfelt. It starts in the morning with a procession of the relics in the streets around the Cathedral, and comes to an end in the evening with a solemn mass and a fireworks display.
The typical pastries of Saint Agatha
The most famous pastries are the minne di Sant'Agata, small cassatas in the shape of the breasts that were cut off the saint by her torturers.
Also worth tasting are the olivette di Sant'Agata, small morsels of almond paste coloured with green. They recall the legend that an olive tree that appeared out of nowhere hid the saint, and offered her its fruit for nourishment when Agatha, fleeing from Quinziano's soldiers, stopped to tie her shoe. The streets of the city are also lined with stalls selling doughnuts, flavoured handmade sweets and nougat.
Credits Regione Siciliana- ph. Paolo Barone
How to reach Catania for the Feast of Saint Agatha
The most convenient way to reach Catania is by flying to Fontanarossa airport, just 5 kilometres from the centre, which is connected by Alibus every 20 minutes and train every 40-60 minutes.
On festival days the city is jam-packed, so make reservations in advance and look for a hotel with a balcony along Via Etnea to watch the procession from above. If you prefer to immerse yourself in the crowd but don't want to miss anything, head to the key points of the procession via the side streets. You can only get around on foot, as on the festival days traffic in the centre is closed and public transport does not operate.