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#72 Patron Saint Celebrations in Sicily
All Saints Day
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Since we've celebrated two deeply religious holidays in Italy this week, I thought I might dedicate some time to discussing the importance of patron saints in Sicily. While Saint Day celebrations in Italy are still popular, they are particularly impressive on the island.
1st Nov was All Saints Day, dedicated to every Saint in the Church's history. While the second was dedicated to the memory of the departed or All Souls Day. Sicilian's relationship to the Saints and their deceased relatives is intense.
Sicilian people have a unique rapport with religion and superstition, which binds the two seemingly conflicting doctrines together. The connection between the two can be traced back to the early Catholic Church in Sicily when the Church had to confront the established ancient pagan beliefs. The Church cleverly used elements of the existing belief system to bring people into the Church.
The Roman Catholic Church always had tremendous power over Sicilian's spiritual, cultural and political lives. Yet despite this, the catholic faith has always coexisted with the traditions and superstitions left behind by centuries of domination by foreign cultures in Sicily, which has resulted in the particular phenomenon of the Santo Padrono.
The early Church, battling the firm belief in superstition, used the cult of the Patron Saint to tap into the people's desire for protection from illness, bad luck and disaster; it was a shrewd strategy which brought worshippers into the Church.
From the final part of the fourth century onwards, the strength of Christianity lay in the way it created a bond between this life and the one beyond the grave. Help came from the Saints, fellow human beings whom people could count on as beloved and influential societal figures.
Every town and city in Italy have its own Saintly Patron or protector, which has a dedicated festa or celebration during the year with associated religious processions and events. The celebrations are usually connected with either the birth or death of each particular Saint.
In Sicily alone, there are three hundred and ninety town halls, meaning many variations in Saint Day celebrations.
Apart from the religious celebrations, the locals celebrate the grandness of their particular Saints' miracles and the intimate connection with their specific town.
The statues of each Saint are a work of art, and the parades are filled with music, prayer and colour. The locals take their saints seriously and try to keep up the traditions.
Sicily's nine major provincial capitals have big celebrations practised uninterrupted for centuries, except for events like the world wars and the pandemic.
After COVID-19 19, Italy has embraced these traditions with a new enthusiasm. There is a certain level of joy and happiness, and the locals have injected a new level of joy and happiness in each celebration, which has given these Saint Days new life.
Each festa is a significant event in a city's calendar filled with markets, art exhibitions, food preparation, open-air events and epic fireworks.
Some towns have more than one Patron, which means several celebrations. At the same time, other cities whose Saints celebration happens in the dead of winter have also decided to have a summer version of the festa for visitors to experience.
I've compiled a list of the significant Patron Saint Day celebrations of the main cities in Sicily (Agrigento, Caltanissetta, Catania, Enna, Messina, Palermo, Ragusa, Syracuse (Siracusa) and Trapani.
I've included an extra celebration at Cefalù, where the festivities feature the Saint's statue being loaded onto a boat. The Saint's statues procession continues into the sea, typical for many celebrations around the island, particularly in coastal towns.
As for the rituals surrounding All Souls Day, I'll save that for another time…
I am preparing several posts about Sicilian’s supersitions and beliefs surrounding mortality and death, which I will post during the month.
At first I thought talking about such a dark subject would be rather macabre but then looking over all of the folktales, observations and diary entries I have gathered through out the years, it would be a shame not to share some of the material. Life and death are both sides of the same coin. And I have so much to tell with you.
I hope you are all staying safe, in a world that seems to be becoming less so every day.
Sending love and light to you.
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