Catania (Italy), a group of devotees carrying the relics of Saint Agatha inside the cathedral during the festival.
Italy - Saint Agatha's fever
The religious feast that turns Catania into an open air theater
Photos: Alessandro Gandolfi
"In Catania - wrote novelist Giovanni Verga at the end of the 18th century - Lent comes with no Carnival. To compensate this, there's the festival of Saint Agatha, a great city event where the whole town turns into a theater". The festival of Saint Agatha, held every year from February 3rd to 6th, more than a century after is still this alive, transforming Catania in an gigantic stage where saint's devotees (the whole city) act full time.

This is one of the most popular events of Christianity, defined by UNESCO one of the "ethno-anthropological heritage of humanity". Agatha, the Picciridda (the little girl) was born in the third century in Catania, and resisted the advances of the Roman proconsul Quintianus through violences and atrocities that killed her, in the end, including the cutting off of her breasts.

A 1969 movie titled "That splendid November", starring Gina Lollobrigida and with the soundtrack by Ennio Morricone, shows clearly the unbelievable amount of energy Catania radiates during those magic days: the overwhelming devotion, the folklore made of sweat and tears, the sleepless nights the cittadini (citizens, as the devotees are called) spend chasing the palanquin conserving Saint Agatha's relics. And that mix of sacred and profane that in the Duomo square sees together mafia and religious cult.