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LA FESTA DI SANT'AGATA
La Festa di Sant'Agata begins on February 3rd and lasts until the eve of February 5th, the day of Agatha's death in 251 AD. It is also celebrated on August 17th, when in 1226, the relics of the saint were brought back to Catania from Constantinople. They were stolen during a raid of the city and brought back by Byzantine soldiers. Since then, the relics have resided in the Cathedral of Catania or the Cattedrale di Sant'Agata.
The cult of Christian saints arose in the third century and perpetuated the belief that the remains of saints, or objects they had touched where holy and could produce miracles. On February 5th, the bust of Agatha, among other relics, is removed from a small chamber and brought to the sight of hundreds. The devoti will carry the bust to a chariot called the fercolo, on which Agatha will be able to parade throughout the city, bringing blessings to her people.
The reliquary bust of Saint Agatha is attributed to fourteenth century sculptor Giovanni di Bartolo. It is solid silver.
During the rest of the year, Agatha is kept inside a small chamber in the Cathedral.
The ornate gold designs and gemstones on the crown and bust represent the devotion to Saint Agatha by her followers as well as the riches brought to Catania by the Saint herself.
The relic above is of the breast of Saint Agatha.
In the weeks leading up to the procession, the streets of Catania begin to flood with people and voices. The Festa begins on February 3rd with the procession of the candelore, which are tall, golden chariots carried by several devoti and accompanied by a band. They contain scenes of Agatha's martyrdom and are adorned with cherubs, lamps, and red, green, and white flags. There are 13 candelore, each of which represent an important trade within the city.
The fercolo or "vara" is a type of coffin used for transport of the relics by the devoti during the festa. It was designed by Italian goldsmith Vincenzo Archifel in 1514. The fercolo is pulled through the streets by the devoti, who carry very long ropes attached to the fercolo. They are bound to the saint as she is bound to them.
On February 4th, the flowers in the fercolo are a red pink to symbolize Agatha's martyrdom, and on the 5th they're white to symbolize her purity and sainthood.
A common detail on a candelora is a cherub with breasts on a plate. Agatha is commonly seen in paintings and sculptures carrying her breasts on a plate, which inspired this popular Catanian desert.
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