The most important religious festival in Catania is the Sant’Agata celebration, which lasts three days from 3 to 5 February. In these festive days, the city of Catania forgets everything to celebrate its Patroness.
The first day is dedicated to “the candelore offerings”, tall and heavy candles that make a short tour that starts from the church of the furnace (San Biagio) up to the cathedral in Piazza Duomo. The major religious, civil and military authorities participate in this event.
Then two eighteenth-century carriages, which once belonged to the senate that governed the city, and eleven “candelore”, large candles representing the guilds or trades, are carried in procession. The tour ends with a grandiose firework display in Piazza Duomo .
February 4th is the day when the city meets the Patroness for the first time, and Catania fills up from the early hours of dawn with devotees dressed in the traditional dress, a white cloth votive alb long up to the ankle and tight at the waist by a drawstring, a black velvet cap, white gloves waving a white handkerchief.
This typical clothing represents the night clothing that the people of Catania wore when, back in 1126, they ran to meet the relics that Gisliberto and Goselmo brought back from Constantinople.
To open the gate where the relics of St. Agatha are kept, three keys are needed, kept by three different people: the treasurer, the master of ceremonies and the prior of the cathedral chapter.
When the bust of the Saint comes out, the bishop of the cathedral celebrates the “Dawn Mass”, after which the procession begins. The tour lasts the whole day and the “fercolo”, a refined work of silverware used to carry the sacred relics of the martyr in procession, is dressed in red carnations that symbolize the shed blood of the saint and is pulled by four or five thousand devotees, traveling through the places of the martyrdom of the Saint, until returning to the cathedral.
On February 5th the “fercolo” is laden with white carnations which symbolize the purity of Agata.
On this day in the late morning the pontifical is celebrated and at sunset the second part of the festival begins in which the “fercolo” goes around the outside of the city until it reaches via San Giuliano, which represents a test of courage for the citizens due to the slope of the road .
Finally the Saint arrives in via Crociferi where the cloistered nuns dedicate an angelic song to Agata, the last stop before returning to the cathedral.