After the first night fireworks, the Festa di Sant’Agata continued for two more days, finally concluding at around 11am on 6 February. Last year I was impressed but cynical; this year I found it overwhelmingly poignant. That has much to do with the fact that I was more involved this year. Living in the centro storico meant that I could go out with a camera at whatever point I chose and be right in the heart of the action, whereas last year in the suburbs removed me from it.
A story for you: on the final morning of the festival, I went to the Duomo and watched people streaming out of the doors, having paid their respects to their saint. More than one man walked past me with red eyes and tears pouring down their faces. The strength of devotion on display was overwhelming.
As I stood there, a woman appeared at my elbow and offered me a gift – a ring ‘for Sant’Agata’. I’m not Catholic, but that wasn’t the reason I refused it initially. Too often these gifts are given with the proviso that you return the favour with a monetary donation. I shook my head. “No grazie, signora.” She was taken aback. “You don’t want it? But it’s for Sant’Agata! A gift.” As I continued to refuse, she took matters into her own hands and pushed the studded, silvery metal ring onto my thumb. I was still expecting the request for money and opened my mouth to say that I didn’t want it, but was silenced by her turning and walking away. This was no scam, but a genuine display of – what? devotion? generosity? desire to spread the word? I don’t know. Whatever it was, I felt a lump come up in my throat as I thanked her departing back.
W.S.Agata / Viva Sant’Agata
Photos of my experience of the Festa this year can be found here, here, here and here. Those of you who follow the DLaM page on Facebook will have seen them already, so below is a new video of the final night of the festival, when devoti carry enormous burning candles through the streets. It’s dangerous, impressive, and a great test of their spiritual, mental and – above all – physical strength. Do watch and feel free to share the links with anyone who would like them.