Saint Agatha’s Festival
Every year from the 3rd to the 5th of February, Catania commemorates its Patron Saint: Saint Agatha.
The first day of the festival is dedicated to the offering of wax candles. An evocative popular tradition requires that the donated candles are as tall and heavy as the person who is asking for the Saint’s clemency. Two 18th century carriages and eleven candalore - giant candles representing the guilds or artisans covered in artistic decorations, golden wood puttos, saints and scenes of the martyrdom, flowers and flags – are carried in procession.
On the 4th of February the bust of Saint Agatha, shining gold with precious stones, is carried in procession along the city streets for the whole day. The devout followers wear a traditional sacco – a white ankle length tunic, tied at the waist by a rope – a black velvet cap, white gloves and a folded white handkerchief which they wave.
The procession starts again in the afternoon of the 5th February until the early hours of the morning when fireworks mark the end of the festivities.
The story of the martyrdom of Saint Agatha began when the Roman consul Quiziano asked for her hand in marriage. After many refusals, the consul imprisoned Agatha, subjecting her to brutal violence, including the removal of her breasts. It is said that whilst Agatha was imprisoned, she was consoled and treated by St Peter: her wounds healed and her breasts reappeared. Finally, the consul decided to burn her at the stake. During this martyrdom a woman covered Agatha with her veil which did not burn: it is the so called Veil of Saint Agatha, to which miracles have been attributed, the last of which was in 1887: the veil was taken to the town of Nicolosi by Archbishop Cardinal Dusmet, and it halted the lava flow which threatened to reach the town.
The image of the wrenched breasts is linked to the so called Minnuzze of Saint Agatha: pastries made with ricotta and short crust pastry whose shape and cherry on the top recall the breasts of the Saint; moreover, during the festival olivette di Sant’ Agata (Saint Agatha’s olives) are eaten: pistachio marzipan balls.