How many of you know that the celebrations in honor of St. Agatha, patron saint of Catania, represent the third most important religious festival in the world?
This year, much to the chagrin of the many faithful, the celebrations will be limited only to religious moments that will take place safely due to the Covid emergency. Therefore, there will not be the usual processions of the fercolo on February 4th and 5th, the fires of the evening of the 3rd, the procession of the wax offering on the 3rd morning.
But all this, we are certain, will not stop the devotees of the Saint, who will in some way pay homage to her even if in the intimacy of their homes.
Agatha, born in the third century from a patrician family from Catania, from an early age she dedicated her life to the Christian religion. It was for this reason that, after refusing to marry the Roman governor Quinziano, the young woman from Catania suffered martyrdom and was killed in the afternoon of February 5, 251. Immediately after her death, Agatha was also venerated outside Sicily, so much so that Pope Cornelius proclaimed her Saint.
Saint Agatha, thus becomes the patron saint of Catania and since then every year from 3 to 5 February, the city is filled with faithful, devotees, the highest religious and institutional offices of the city, and above all tourists from all over the world. Her veneration is associated with her death but, the actual feast does not have a precise date, however, it is associated with the various miracles, first of all in 252. The Sacred Veil of Sant’Agata stopped a terrible eruption of Etna that was destroying the city of Catania.
The day of February 3 opens with a procession through the streets of the city. Do you know what the devotees carry throughout the day? They bring “i cannilori” , candles of different shapes and sizes as an offer to the Saint. These imposing candles weighing between 400 and 900 kilos, are carried on the shoulders, depending on the weight, by a group consisting of 4 to 12 men, which makes them advance with a very characteristic gait called “A ‘nnacata”. During the celebrations of Saint’Agatha, you can see girls dressed in white and with veiled faces dancing around the Candelore, called “nttuppatedde” . According to an ancient tradition, the women of Catania, nobles and commoners, during the days of the festival went out alone, without husbands or boyfriends, covered with “tuppa” , hence their name. The “tuppa” is in dialect the membrane that covers the shell of the snails: they were, in fact, disguised with long black cloaks, hooded and with their faces covered so as not to be recognized. This was the only moment in which they were allowed to go out to have fun. The “ntuppatedde” today are no longer dressed in black but in white and carry a red flower in their hands, with their dances involving passers-by and claiming the right of women to be free and follow the example of Saint Agatha. In the afternoon, the Saint’Agatha Trophy transforms the streets of the historic center into a real running center, so much so that over the years it has involved professional athletes of international level. In the evening, it ends in Piazza Duomo, with the characteristic and long-awaited water show with jets in time to music and the famous “fuochi a sira o tri”.
The real religious festival, however, begins with the Mass celebrated at dawn on February 4th, when the bust with the relics of Saint’Agatha is “given” to the devotees who, dressed in “cò saccu” (a white habit), will carry it in procession along the inner and outer streets of the city. Inside the bust are preserved the skull of the Catania saint and the rib cage. While the casket holds arms and hands, legs and feet, femurs, breast,s, and holy veil. The bust is covered with jewels of all kinds and ex-votos: the crown of Agata (a gift from King Richard the Lionheart passing through Catania on his return from a Crusade), two large silver angels placed on the sides of the bust itself, and the collar of the French legion of honor that belonged to Vincenzo Bellini. At the end of 1800 the “vara” of Sant’Agata suffered the theft of the twelve statues of the apostles, in solid silver, and since then a famous saying known throughout the province of Catania: “ Dopo cha Sant’Aita c’arrubaru, ci ficiru i porti i’ ferru”. (after Sant’Agata was robbed they made an iron door for it).
The procession outside the walls is very touching and suggestive, with thousands and thousands of devotees who, through the streets of Catania full of beautiful lights, waving a white handkerchief, shout: “E chiamàmula cu ‘razzia e cu cori, pi sant’Àjituzza beḍḍa, ca sta niscennu, Cittatini! Semu tutti divoti, tutti? Cittatini, cittatini! Evviva sant’Àjita cittatini! Evviva sant’Àjita. Tutti divoti, tutti? Cittatini, cittatini!” – “Let’s call her with grace and heart, for beautiful Saint’Agatuccia, who is going out, citizens! Are we all devoted, all? Citizens, citizens! Long life Saint’Agatha, citizens! Long life Saint’Agata. All devoted, all? Citizens, Citizens! “. The procession reaches Piazza Stesicoro where there are the places that commemorate the martyrdom of Saint’Agatha. Here, in fact, where the virgin Agatha suffered martyrs, the Church of Sant’Agata al Carcere and the Church of Sant’Agata alla Fornace stand, beautiful churches that are worth a visit. At this point comes the most characteristic moment of the day. Along “â ‘cchianata dê Cappuccini”, the fercolo of Saint’Agatha is hauled up to the highest point, thus arriving in front of the Church of San Domenico, in the square of the same name. In recent years, however, the climb is no longer run in a hurry. Once you reach the Church of Saint’Agatha la Vetere, the first cathedral in Catania, the procession stops here for a few hours. After mass in the small church of Saint’Agatha la Vetere, the procession crosses the districts of the ancient Corso, the Capuchins, “do furtinu”, San Cristoforo, and the Guardian Angels. The return to the Cathedral Basilica, at the first light of dawn on 5 February, takes place with an evocative show of fireworks.
On the morning of 5 February, the Pontifical Mass is celebrated at the Cathedral Basilica, presided over by the highest religious offices in Catania.
Throughout the day the bust with the relics of Saint Agatha remains on display in the Cathedral and finally in the afternoon after Holy Mass, it is again entrusted to the devotees for the last procession along the internal streets of the city also known as inside the walls. The fercolo runs along Via Etnea to the Bellini Garden, then on to Via Caronda until it reaches Piazza Cavour or, as the people of Catania say, “u burgu” where in front of the Church of Sant’Agata al Borgo, here too, wonderful fireworks display dedicated to the “Santuzza”. The procession will end in the late morning of February 6th. Among the most evocative moments of the long journey of the devotees is that of the singing of the cloistered Benedictine nuns.
On the highlight of the festival, February 5th, the most beautiful thing that can happen to you is to meet a local and have the opportunity to watch the procession directly from the top of a balcony of the many noble palaces, in complete tranquility. Only in this way, you will be able to see the river of people who accompany the fercolo with devotion but also with a lot of noise.
Not everyone knows that in times of war the Saint was hidden in the Madonna Santissima del Rosario church in Fleri (fraction of Zafferana Etnea) and that, as a sign of gratitude, a relic of her was given as a gift.
During these three intense days, you can also visit the Sant’Agatha fair, a large outdoor market, full of the joy, warmth, and folklore of the locals. But like any self-respecting festival, the traditions and desserts related to Santa Catanese certainly cannot be missing, the characteristic “calia e simenza” (dried chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, peanuts), the tradition of every Sicilian festival, and the desserts referred to Saint’Agatha, such as “the cassateddi di Sant’Aita” and the “alivetti” (fragrant green sugar paste in the shape of olives). “I cassateddi”, also called “minnuzzi ri Sant’Ajta”, refer to the breasts that were snatched from the saint during the martyrs; the “alivetti”, on the other hand, refer to a legend that it was an olive tree, which arose suddenly, that hid the virgin Agatha while she was wanted by the soldiers of the Roman consul Quinziano.
Since this year the celebrations will be limited, to enjoy the party we suggest realizing one of the two recipes at home.
INGREDIENTS FOR THE SHORT PASTRY (DOSES FOR 10 DESSERTS)
00 flour 485 g
Butter 190 g
Powdered sugar 150 g
Vanilla bean 1
FOR THE STUFFING:
Sheep ricotta 600 g
Candied orange 80 g
Dark chocolate 100 g
Powdered sugar 100 g
Orange peel 1
FOR THE FROSTING AND FILLING:
Icing sugar 525 g
Egg whites 3
Lemon juice 3 tbsp
Candied cherries 10 g
To prepare the minnuzzi di Saint’Agatha, knead the shortcrust pastry: on a pastry board pour the flour that you have blended in a mixer with cold butter, add the icing sugar, the egg yolks (keep the egg whites aside, to the icing), the seeds of a vanilla bean and knead with your hands to obtain a homogeneous mixture. Wrap the shortcrust pastry in cling film and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least half an hour.
Proceed with the preparation of the filling: cut the candied orange into small pieces and reduce the dark chocolate into flakes. Sift the ricotta very well, passing it through the meshes of a colander and add the icing sugar, also passed through a sieve, then mix the ingredients. Add the pieces of candied orange and chocolate; finally, if you want a more fruity aroma, add the grated zest of an orange. Mix everything to obtain a homogeneous mixture.
Take the pastry back and roll it out, with the help of a rolling pin, into a sheet about half a cm high and line it with hemispherical molds, then fill them with about 80 grams of ricotta.
Roll out the shortcrust pastry, always to a thickness of half a cm, leftover, and make a circle to seal the hemispheres with a pastry cutter with a diameter of 8 cm. Then close the hemispheres by lightly pressing the edges.
Bake everything in a preheated static oven at 200 ° for 20 minutes (convection oven 180 ° for 15 minutes). When the minnuzze are colored on the surface, take them out of the oven and let them cool in the molds, then turn them out when they are completely cold (otherwise the hot filling will not hold up). Arrange them on a wire rack and in the meantime prepare the icing: whip the egg whites with the whisk of an electric mixer or with a planetary mixer, when the mixture is semi-assembled, add the icing sugar, a spoon at a time, and lastly the lemon juice. The consistency of the icing must not be too firm and shiny but, as they say in the jargon, it must “write”, that is, it must leave a trail falling from above.
Cover the minnuzze well with the icing, sliding it evenly over the cake, then finish the decoration with a candied cherry placed on top of each dessert. Leave to dry on the wire rack to let the excess icing fall off. “I minnuzzi” di Sant’Agata are ready: they can be eaten when the icing is still soft or let it dry completely.
Don’t have too many but while waiting to welcome you for Saint’Agatha celebrations of 2022…. ”Buone minnuzze” everyone!