The Festa di Sant’Agata is the most important religious celebration in the city of Catania. Agata is the patron Saint of this city and is remembered in many ways throughout the year.
The Festa di Sant’Agata runs from the 3rd– 5th of February, 12th February and again on August 17th. Each date is linked to a different recurrence: In February the martyrdom of the Saint is remembered whereas, in August the day in which her remains were brought back to Catania, after they were stolen from Constantinople.
Every year, from February 3rd to February 5th, over a million believers and tourists gather in Catania. Many Catanese people who now live a stable life in other parts of Italy, return to their respective city in honour of Santa Patrona.
The origins of the veneration of Sant’Agata are very ancient and this tradition still lives on, today more than ever. The martyrdom of the Catanese Saint dates back to the year 252, the year in which the first testimonies of strong popular devotion towards this virgin, who had devoted herself to martyrdom in order to defend her honour and not to deny her faith, were made.
The people of Catania are very proud of this young woman, who turned against the will of the Roman proconsul and therefore, lost her life.
As is often the case with folk festivals, it is not merely a religious element; it seems that at the beginning of February, even before the birth of Agata, a pagan festival was celebrated, probably dedicated to the Goddess Isis.
The first record of a festival specifically dedicated to Sant’Agata is on 17th August 1126, when the remains of the Saint, stolen in 1040, were brought home by two soldiers, Gilberto and Goselino, from the city of Constantinople, where they had been for over 80 years.
On that occasion the Bishop of Catania, Maurizio, went to the castle of Jaci to welcome them. Word spread rapidly among the citizens and they poured into the streets of the city, giving rise to spontaneous and improvised celebrations.
As we have said, nowadays there are several days that Catania dedicates to the memory of Agata, but amongst them, the most exciting is undoubtedly February 4th, when a traditional procession takes place through the streets of the city centre and shows “fercolo”, a refined work of silver that contains the relics of the Saint.