|The Miraculous veil, the volcano and our "Santuzza"|
"The veil was and is for the people of Catania a victorious flag against the most serious dangers threatening the city, such as devastation of Etna's lava." So wrote Sciuto Patti in the early twentieth century about the veil of Sant'Agata, patron saint of Catania.
The veil is a sheet of silk about four meters long, and it is now kept in a precious reliquary. The veil is red-brown in colour, the king worn by the virgins in the early days of European Christianity, the "velum flammeum".
The young Agatha, affectionately called the "Santuzza" by his Catanians, was martyred in 251 CE. According to tradition Agata’s veil remained intact even while she was placed on hot coals, and it is said that since the year 253 the relic has rebuffed Etna's lava.
There have been at least ten eruptions of our volcano whereby the prodigious veil intervened to defend the Etna’s folks (in 253, 1169, 1239, 1408, 1444, 1536, 1567, 1635, 1886 and 2001).
On all these occasions were reported episodes in which the faithful went and, thanks to the miraculous veil, managed to stop the lava flow, saving homes and villages threatened by the fire of the volcano.
The famous volcanologist Giuseppe Recupero mentions the founding of the village of Sant'Agata Li Battiati, a few kilometers from Catania, right after one of these extraordinary events.
The veil is kept, along with other relics of the Saint, inside the Cathedral of Catania, and in just a few days the city will again be celebrating its Agata.
The celebrations, which involve all the inhabitants of Catania since five centuries, begin on the morning of February the 3rd with a parade of "Candelore" and the old Senate Carriage. In the evening a great fireworks show is organized in Piazza Duomo, usually accompanied by a classical music concert.
On the following day, February 4th, after a long wait, the citizens finally see their Saint again, represented by a reliquary bust adorned with jewels, gold and precious stones.
The bust is carried for two days on a silver Fercolo, the "vara", through the poor and rich neighborhoods of the city, pulled by "devoti" of the Saint who wear white tunics, the "sacco".
Agata then starts the so-called tour of outer town (a route outside the ancient walls of the city) surrounded by devotees waving white handkerchiefs.
This part of the procession involves the humblest neighborhoods becoming particularly impressive: lit balconies and votive shrines, open homes improvising grilled meat for all participants in the festivities, and of course red drapes-adorned with an "A" for Agata festooned everywhere.
On the 5th of February devotees carry their "Santuzza" through the old town center all night. The tour ends with the "ascent of San Giuliano," whereby the Fercolo is pulled up one of the steepest streets of the city to finally reach the Church of San Benedetto, in via Crociferi. Here, every year, the songs, cries and prayers of “devoti” and citizens cease in order to hear the angelic choir of the nuns, who, on this occasion only, leave the cloister to pay homage to the Saint and say goodbye before her return to the Cathedral.
This celebration, so ancient and resonant, is also known for its baroque features, Catania is, is in fact one of the best example of Baroque architecture and style in Sicily, exhibited by the "Candelore", among other things.
Throughout the tour in fact the "vara" is preceded by 11 huge candles lit and adorned with flowers, decorated mostly in Baroque style (but also Gothic and Rococo), representing the corporations of traditional crafts.
The Candelore, embellished with banners and ex voto and followed by their marching bands, are carried on the shoulders by representatives of the guilds. They seem to dance in their movements , this is the famous "annacata".
The festival of St. Agatha, at the foot of Etna, has attracted many tourists in recent years and is increasingly followed by Italians living abroad, only a few other festivals in the world can compare to it, in terms of scale and devotion.
The people of Catania forget their occupations for these three days, and when it’s time to greet their Saint at the end of the celebrations, they will already be thinking at the next joyful encounter.
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