On the first of May 2015, Cagliari and the whole of Sardinia will celebrate the 359th feast of Saint Efisio.
Each year, from 1st to 4th May, the Feast of Saint Efisio assembles the devoted to the Saint, the traditional dresses and the colours of entire Sardinia in a moving and grand procession. The cortege starts from the narrow streets of Stampace neighborhood in the centre of Cagliari, crowded with people and transformed into a carpet of flower petals, and reaches the beach of Nora, to return back to the small church from where it started. A very long pilgrimage with thousands of devout people from all over the island, who proceed on foot, on horseback or riding in the traccas, the old country carts drawn by oxen and decorated with fruit and flowers. It is not only the main religious, cultural and identity event of Sardinia, it is, above all, the fulfillment of a solemn promise made on 11th July 1652 by the city to its patron. From then, each Spring, it has been always honoured, for more than 350 years, with deep devotion and sincere gratitude.
In 1652 the plague was raging in Sardinia. The city authorities sought aid making a solemn vow to Saint Efisio, the martyr, a Roman soldier who, just before being executed because of his faith, had promised to protect for ever Cagliari and its inhabitants. With this vow, the municipality promised to take the statue of the Saint in procession from the place where Saint Efisio was imprisoned, in the neighborhood of Stampace, to the beach of Nora, on the gulf to the West of the city, where he suffered martyrdom. The plague ended. Since then, every year Cagliari fulfills its vow. Since the year of the plague, the Saint has been invoked many times, and in their salvation, the citizens have always seen his intervention. This is because Saint Efisio and the city are truly bound together: by love, veneration and mutual promises, made and fulfilled over the centuries.
All year through people work to prepare the feast. All over Sardinia, in each town, those devoted to the Saint carefully prepare their traditional dresses, often ancient and very precious, handed down over the generations. Horses and riders practice walking in procession, drivers prepare the huge patient oxen to the fatigue of drawing the traccas, carts decorated with flowers that parade before the Saint’s gilded coach. On the morning of the 1st of May, the coach appears in the small square, where the two chosen oxen are waiting with their horns decorated with bunches of flowers. The streets are covered with ramadura: a brightly coloured, scented carpet of petals and fragrant essences. All the procession anticipates the appearance of Saint Efisio – before him the devoted people with their traditional dresses, then the traccas, followed by the religious confraternities and the Miliziani (guards) riding their horses and wearing their historic uniforms with red jackets.
Also the Alter Nos, dressed in morning suit and top hat, delegated to represent the Mayor and the entire city, accompanies the Saint. In front of the City Hall, the Saint’s statue stops to receive the homage of the city, while bells ring joyfully together with the sirens of the ships in the harbor. That is perhaps the most striking moment, when one can truly experience the deep participation which accompanies this day, but it is only the start off of the long pilgrimage to the beach of Nora. The Saint is placed into a simpler cart, then stops for the night and reaches the place of his martyrdom only on the following day. Two days of celebrations follow before the long return journey. On the 4th of May, at night, he returns to the city, together with his horse-mounted Miliziani and an enormous amount of devoted people. It is intense and moving, just like a dream.
15th January: This is the date of the martyrdom of the Saint, celebrated in the presence of the Archbishop of the Diocese and the devotees of the Saint of the city of Cagliari, with a procession passing through the streets of the historical neighborhood of Stampace.
1st May: The grand procession begins at 10 am, opened by the traccas, followed by the devoted people in their traditional dresses and the riders, the Miliziani and the Guardiania. The Saint’s coach sets out at noon, and proceeds through the city centre passing in front of the City Hall. The pilgrimage then proceeds with a series of stopovers and reaches Sarroch, where it stops for the night.
2nd May: The procession proceeds to Nora, place of the martyrdom.
3rd May: Saint Efisio advances on the road reaching the ruins of the Roman city of Nora, and then returns back to Pula.
4th May: The procession leaves for Cagliari at 8 am and reaches the city at about 10.30 pm. Before midnight, the great feast is over. Once again, the solemn vow has been fulfilled.
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