Sicilians love their saints. Like in many other catholic regions of the world, saints – especially patron saints – are celebrated in cities, towns and villages alike on particular days or times of the year. While some of these saint-related feasts all over the world have lost their original religious meaning, in Sicily they still involve displays of devotion and lots of emotional involvement.
Speaking in terms of folklore and traditions, San Paolo’s feast in Palazzolo Acreide, in the province of Siracusa, Sicily, is one of the most spectacular and intense feasts to see in South Eastern Sicily. Even for those who, like me, can’t refer to themselves as believers or devotees.
San Paolo’s celebrations last 4 full days, and the festival is held at the end of June in the town centre in Palazzolo. The highlight of the whole festival is ‘a sciuta - ‘the exit’ in Sicilian. The term may not make sense when translated but it is used to describe the saint’s simulacrum making its way out of San Paolo’s church on a palanquin carried by devotees on their bare shoulders.
As soon as the simulacrum sticks his nose out of the church’s front door a huge amount of coloured squares and strips of paper is fired into the sky through a number of small cannon mouths placed all around the church. At one side of the church fireworks are also blown, but being in broad daylight, these fireworks only contribute to the level of noise creating some tiny black clouds in the sky. An American friend of mine who was with me described this part of the feast as terrifying – I think I understand where this description comes from. Being relatively close to the church, given that we were allowed to sit beyond the barriers put by the police (perhaps because we both had cameras on our necks), as soon as the show started we found ourselves in a cloud made of gunpowder and pieces of paper, while the fireworks could have well sounded like bombs in a war zone. Volunteers with their water hoses were also patrolling the space in front of the church, making sure to keep any fire hazard under control.
During the celebrations, especially before the sciuta and during the procession (which takes place after the show) devotees raise their kids (naked if newborns) in front of the simulacrum either asking for “grace” or favours, or just as a sign of thankfulness if they think they already received what they’ve wished for.
Here are some pictures I took during the event.