Word spread throughout Sicily about the brutality that Agatha endured and how she stood strong in her Christian faith through it all (as recounted in the last two days’ posts). Over time, her cult grew. Folklorists will tell you that the feverish devotion for Agatha is rooted in local citizens’ ancient devotion to the virgin Kore (Persephone), daughter of the goddess Demeter, who was stolen to the Underworld to be Hades’ wife. Knowing this “Rape of Persephone” myth is essential to understanding modern Sicilians’ devotion to Saint Agatha (and Saint Lucy too!) – – fact confirmed by the presence of imagery of Demeter and Kore and their tale that is still found today throughout the island.
Ah yes, the feverish devotion! It is beautifully fanatical. Which brings us to February 3-5, when the annual Festa di Sant’Agata takes over Catania’s thoroughfares. The first day of the feast, February 3, features a procession of massive candelabras, or candelore, which are carried by the city’s various guilds of butchers, bakers, carpenters, stonemasons, fishermen, transport workers, and more. The candelore are gilded, intricately decorated, and very, very heavy. To carry them through the city’s neighborhoods requires between 4 and 12 men who “dance them” in procession. The back-breaking ritual is practiced to illustrate the men’s devotion to their protectress Agata, who suffered in order to guide them towards faith. Carrying the candelore is a ritual for which they practice for months and years–as illustrated by these young boys at last year’s feast, who are getting an early start to what they hope will be their responsibility one day.