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Festa di San Sebastiano Acireale | Etna Walking Rural
Festa di San Sebastiano Acireale
20 January 2018 Daniela Moscato

2020/27 January – Acireale (CT)

The Saint who “nesci nudu e si cogghi ‘u friddu” patron of the city of Acireale together with Santa Venera, is the messenger of spring and also of that feast of King Burloni ready to color the February acese. San Sebastiano is a holy martyr of the Christian Church.

The only historical documents from which it is possible to derive the few sure elements on the life of the saint are a brief passage in the commentary on the psalmograph of Sant’Ambrogio and the Depositio Manyrum of a chronograph of 354. Sebastiano was martyred under Diocletian as his zeal for the spread of Christian doctrine together with that for assistance to prisoners and the burial of martyrs did not go unnoticed and were unpleasant to the emperor. He was condemned to death by the torture of the arrows.

Legend has it that at night some Christians went to the place to bury him. Realizing that she was still miraculously alive, a noblewoman named Irene rescued him and welcomed him to her palace on the Palatine. Having regained health, instead of following the invitation of Christians to abandon Rome to save their lives, he decided to publicly declare his faith in Christ. He was killed, probably in the late third century. and the beginning of the 4th century through flagellation in the racecourse of the Palatine and his body thrown into a cloaca.

The feast of St. Sebastian the martyr is celebrated by the Western world on 20 January and by the eastern world on 18 December. It is very revered in Sicily where cult of the Martyr seems to have been introduced in the year 1063 by the Lombards following Ruggero I.

The devotion to San Sebastiano increased between 1625 and 1630, when he invoked his intercession to stop the terrible plague epidemic afflicting the Sicilian Island. Many cities competed to celebrate it due to the great prodigies and the healing that took place through its intercession and still today there are many cities where the Saint’s festivity is very much felt. Today he is no longer invoked as a protector against plague and epidemics, but he is the patron saint of the municipal police. The classic iconography depicts him under martyrdom and pierced by arrows tied to a tree or a column.

The most beloved festival by the acesi takes place on the 20th of January each year in honor of San Sebastiano. Despite being one of the many patrons deputized together with the main patron Saint Venera to impose the divine protection on the city, the festivities given to the saint, expression of a popular devotion more than 450 years still alive and felt, are undoubtedly the most awaited city religious event .

The first morning lights have not yet fully illuminated the splendid eighteenth-century facade of the great basilica, an illustrious example of Sicilian baroque, that the square in front is populated with devotees eager to run towards the chapel where the Saint was kept and hidden from their seen throughout the year.

Strictly religious moments celebrated by the dean of the Basilica have interested the faithful during the weeks preceding the festival, while the relics of the saint have been accompanied in strictly religious forms in the places of pain and memory of the city. Masses, functions, meditations reinforce a catechesis that deliberately devoid of folk superstructures makes understanding the faithful religious and motivated divisions the profound religious sense of the event.

The long year of deprivation, offered as a practice of penitential atonement by a crowd of believers impatient to see their favorite again dissolves into a cry of uncontrollable joy at the opening of the chapel and the unveiling of the statue of the Saint depicted in the form of a blond curly boy in the act of receiving the martyrdom of the arrows. ‘U rizzareddu (the ricciolino) as the saint is affectionately called, surrounded by the thousand glimmers of the eighteenth century fercolo and with the two plump little angels that with slight effort support the silver arms where the relics are kept, is forcefully placed with slow movements made almost impossible by the crowd, over the heavy pool: a wooden carriage equipped with four retractable but fixed wheels.

To the cry of: cu tuttu ‘choirs: alive Sammastianu! (with all my heart: live San Sebastiano!) about forty divisions are handed down from father to son the ambitious task of transporting the baiardo lifting it at strong strength at every turn, often even running, along a path that winds through the city.

Around them other divisions: women and men, young and old, sometimes even children in their parents’ arms, all, as tradition dictates, without shoes, with their feet covered by simple socks, dressed in traditional uniform with their heads covered by a handkerchief, together with a multitude of simple faithful, accompany the Saint throughout the day. After the spectacular maneuver of exit from the Basilica, other vertiginous races fill the day amid continuous scampanii and fireworks. Late at night and after crossing ancient streets and squares in which a tradition long centuries of history has created moments of touching religiosity, the procession ends with a suggestive return to the basilica. On January 27th, the Octave of the Celebrations in the evening Procession with the simulacrum of San Sebastiano. Blessing with the S. Reliquies and closing of the Chapel.

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