The Top Religious Festivals and Events in Sicily

After visiting Sicily, there is no doubt you would think that our God was biased when he created this exceptionally beautiful island. It’s no wonder that today, Sicilians continue to celebrate religious festivals – in particular those that pay tribute to their patron saints of individual Sicilian towns and villages. Whether you are a believer or not, the way Sicilians celebrate will have you believing in some sort of supernatural magic!

Festa di Sant’Agata – The Festival of Saint Agatha, Catania

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Saint Agatha was born into a Catholic, noble family in Catania in the third century AD. When she refused marriage from the Roman governor Quinzian for the devotion of God and Christianity, her trials began. Being a Christian, Quinzian persecuted, tortured, martered and raped her. Her death was ordered by the governor which was for her to be burned on a bed of coals. The miracle is that her red veil was left intact whilst burning. A year after her death in 251, Mount Etna erupted with lava moving towards the city of Catania. The inhabitants took the red veil from Saint Agatha’s tomb and held it up against the lava which suddenly stopped.

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As a patron saint of Catania, her feast day is celebrated on her death on February 5 every year. It lasts for three days and includes the procession on day one where the ‘cannalori’ (eleven candles) are carried through the streets in Catania to the Piazza Duomo. The second day involves the gathering of crowds to watch the procession of the saint’s statue out of the Cathedral, which is repeated again on the third day. Once it reaches Via Crociferi, the nuns of San Benedetto Church pay homage to the Saint with songs. Amongst the religious event, the millions of Sicilians celebrate with marching bands, fireworks and numerous food stalls, dedicated to the patroness, Saint Agatha. The main sweets are minnuzze of Sant’Agata (nougat with hazelnuts) and olivette (green almond paste sweets). Part two of the festa is followed on 17 August which commemorates the return of her relics from Constantinople back to Catania in 1126.

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Festa di Santa Lucia delle Quaglie – The Festival of Saint Lucy, Syracuse

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As a young girl born into a wealthy Roman family in Syracuse in 304 AD, she chose to use her dowry for the poor and continue consecrating her life to Jesus Christ. She was denounced to the Roman emperor for being a Christian, as it was prohibited during the Roman Empire; by her future husband for he was angry he would not receive her generous dowry. After refusing to go to a temple for sacred prostitution, Lucy remained immoveable in spirit and physically was not able to be moved by the governor’s soldiers, nor did the flames touch her when they intended her to be lit by fire. To complete her miracle, after being stabbed in the throat, she foretold the end of the Empire’s rule and received Holy Communion.

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To commemorate the patron saint of Siracusa, they celebrate on the first two Sundays of May as a thank you for saving the city from the famine in 1642. As expected, Sicilians use food to represent symbolism or remember events. For Santa Lucia, the main dish is cuccia – made from wheat berries and can be served as a savoury soup or a pudding added with ricotta as they do in Palermo. She is thus remembered for saving Siracua from the 17th C famine.

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Besides the religious celebrations of Christmas, the Epiphany and Holy Week, Sicilians commemorate many other patron saints throughout the year, over a number of days. They are nothing short of respect for one’s city and history, traditional food and dance. Other saint festivals to stick around for are Santa Rosalia in Palermo (9-15 July), San Giuseppe in Salemi (19 March), San Calogero in Agrigento (July), San Giacomo in Caltagirone (24 July) and San Sebastian in Palazzolo Acreide (8-10 August). Buona festa tutti!

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