June 1, 2015

Saint Agatha Festival - Closing Ceremony

Fireworks explode over the Piazza del Duomo in the center of Catania during final procession of the candelabras to the Cathedral of St. Agatha.
In February of 2003,  I was nearing the end of my 6 month backpack through Europe. I decided to drop down to Sicily briefly before flying home from Rome at the end of the month.  I happened to arrived in Catania on the day of the closing ceremony of the Saint Agatha festival, a multi-day festival honoring St. Agatha (Agata) the patron saint of Catania.  It was quite the spectacle.

The Piazza del Duomo was crowded with people as fireworks exploded in the sky and men carried the lighted candelabras strapped to their back for one last procession around the square. It takes several men (I saw no women doing this) to lift up the massive and heavily adorned gold-leaf candelabras, walk them rather quickly for about a hundred feet and then put them down for a brief rest. Their destination was the Cathedral of St. Agatha.  Filled with devotees and tourists, this is where the silver reliquary with St. Agatha's remains is located. After getting a taste of the festival that night, I told myself that I must return to have the full experience of the festival, and I did in 2005.

Now twelve years after that first arrival on the final night, I return once again to Catania on the final night of the festival. Just as the event was kicking off, the rain started to come down. The locals say it had been a particularly wet and cold winter in Sicily, but it wasn't enough to keep people from coming out for the end of one of the largest religious festivals in Europe.
The procession of candelabras makes it's way to the entrance of the Cathedral of St. Agatha while attendees wait in the rain.  Before street lighting, the candelabras where used to light the streets during the procession.
Inside the cathedral, devotions are yelled out as participants are overwhelmed with emotion of the ceremony. Devotees wear the traditional night clothes of St. Agatha's time consisting of white gloves, a black cap, and sackcloth robe.
A shrine to St. Agatha outside the old city wall is where devotees place offerings of flowers and candles.
Men carrying the candelabra through the Piazza del Duomo to the cathedral.  A young boy rides on the candelabra emulating the carrying stance with his hand on his head. It takes 8 to 12 men to carry each candelabra.
Padded burlap hoods are worn to help bear the weight of the candelabras carried on individual's back. 
The center person in the front and the back of the candelabras wear a heavy strap to hook onto the handles to aid in lifting and carrying the candelabras. 
Attendees stand outside the gates of the side chapel to get a glimpse of the reliquary containing St. Agatha's remains.  The reliquary is only brought outside the church once a year during the festival.
A barrier fence creates a larger parameter around the shrine to St. Agatha during the festival for devotees to light candles and pray.   The offering of wax is an integral part of the festival. The area inside the barrier is covered with sawdust  to absorb the wax after the used candles are tossed in the center.
Carriers taking a rest during the candelabra procession in the Piazza del Duomo.  There are eleven candelabras in total each in honor of religious figures and traditional food producers such as fishermen, butchers, pasta makers, bakers, etc.
The candelabra are decorated with many depictions of St. Agatha's persecution and martyrdom. The candelabra design originated from the baroque era and are referred to as "baroque moving through a baroque city". 
Two devotees in the cathedral paused to ask me where I was from, so I asked them if I could take a photo.   Many wear a large pendant with the bust of St. Agatha as part of their outfit.
Fireworks explode over the Cathedral of St. Agatha at the beginning of the closing ceremony of the festival. Numerous fireworks displays occur throughout the city on a number of different days during the festival.

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