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June 29, 2011 / TAB

Sicily- Palazzolo Acreide

One of the most intense festivals is in Palazzolo Acreide (Sicily) for their patron saint,  St. Paul, on June 29th (the anniversary of his martyrdom) each year. The celebration in June runs on a precise schedule for 4 days. The town is decorated with light frames and on the 26th are lit. The ones in the Piazza Umberto I are especially intricate. A concert of light music is held on the 27th. On the 28th at dusk, the statue of St. Paul emerges from being veiled since his conversion celebration in January. This historical procession has all the bands and flags and especially drummers that you’d expect. The 29th finds people bringing offerings in the form of bread entwined to signify the snakes associated with the saint escorted by drummers, flag bearers, and bands. At 1:00 pm, drummers announce the coming of the saint and a huge statue emerges from the basilica carried on the shoulders of many men preceded by the Holy relics. Then fireworks are shot off and strips of colored paper representing snakes are shot into the air. The church bells are ringing and the drummers beat a rapid (and loud) accompaniment. Naked babies are held up for the crowd to greet (don’t know what that means). In the evening, St. Paul is carried through the town in another procession. Festivities continue until July 6, when St. Paul goes back under cover for 6 months.

The timing was right for me to include this into my festival schedule. I arrived early because I knew parking would be an issue. I drove through town and grabbed the first open spot I could and it turned out to be as far away from the Basilica as it could be. Not having a map to go by, I took photos of each cross street I turned down as my version of bread crumbs to find my way back to the car. This turned out to be a great idea when I lost my marked map picked at the TI and had to ask someone when a certain church piazza was located. I just showed him my photo of the sign. Getting directions to the Basilica of St. Paul, I headed downhill to Piazza Umberto I where crowds were already gathering.

There was little shade so people were taking out their spots in what coolness they could find. I did too but it was my downfall. At 11:30, drummers started a loud tattoo and marched the square, followed flag bearers and bands. Two different groups were represented. The drummers struck their drums with a fierce determination. A wagon full of the snake shaped bread was taken into the Basilica to be blessed. Fireworks were shot off. Then the waiting began again.

As the time grew shorter for the 1:00 spectacle, the crowds grew more intense and larger. The shady side of the street was the most desirable location and I got pushed and shoved and crammed into a doorway between a guy making no friends with his cigar and a teenager who was throwing up. There was no escape and I started to see spots and feel dizzy. It had been 3 hours of standing in one spot in the 90+ heat. Finally I put my hand over my mouth like I was going to be sick and the crowd parted enough for me to get into the piazza just as the relics and statues emerged. I will try and link the videos together and post them later. For now here’s the action in photos. Update: a short video is at (cut and paste the link):

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Leave a Comment
  1. Jeannetta Vivere / Jun 29 2011 4:35 pm

    oh heaven’s that’s hot to be standing all that time !!!

    • TAB / Jun 29 2011 7:28 pm

      You wouldn’t believe how hot is is right now.

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