Festino di Santa Rosalia

The Feast of Saint Rosalia

"Viva Palermo e Santa Rosalia!"
Every year in July Sicily celebrates the Festino di Santa Rosalia, or Feast of Saint Rosalia, one of the biggest holidays of the year in Sicily. Half a million people gather in the city of Palermo to honor the Sicilian heroine Saint Rosalia beginning on the evening of July 14th. The procession begins at the Cathedral of Palermo and features a vessel-shaped chariot carrying the Statue of Saint Rosalia.

Who Was Saint Rosalia?

Rosalia was born into a noble family in 1130 and was to be married via an arranged marriage, as was customary at the time for someone of her social standing. Devoutly religious, she refused marriage and chose to retire to a cave on Mount Pellegrino where she died alone in 1166. Her sainthood wouldn't come until nearly five decades later when Palermo was in the midst of a deadly plague.

In 1624, a plague afflicted Palermo and it was during this time that Rosalia appeared to a woman who was ill. The woman miraculously recovered three days later. Rosalia then later appeared to a soapmaker, and in this vision she directed him to bring her remains from the cave and parade them around the city to relieve the city of the plague. The city found relief from the plague after this and a few months later Rosalia was appointed sainthood on July 15, 1625 for saving the city.

'U Fistinu'

The main event of the festival (known simply as 'u fistinu' in Palermo) is it's parade. The route starts at the Cathedral of Palermo and gains energy as more and more dancing festival-goers join the procession, shouting "Viva Palermo e Santa Rosalia!" along the way. The elaborately decorated "chariot" (think of a really large moving stage) containing the Statue of Saint Rosalia eventually makes its way to Foro Italico near the sea, where the parade culminates with an extravagant fireworks display. As a religious celebration, there are numerous masses around the holiday to commemorate and honor Palermo's patron Saint Rosalia.

No summer festival would be complete without the delicious food vendors coming out and serving up the finest flavors of the season and Sicily's Festino di Santa Rosalia is no different. Revelers can enjoy Sicilian classics like sfincione, pasta & sardines, calia e simenza (roasted chickpeas & pumpkin seeds), and panino con le panelle (chickpea fritter sandwich).

This year's festival will be very different due to COVID-19, but we're looking forward to enjoying it in it's full glory again in the future. In March & April when the virus struck Italy the hardest, Palermitans once again were calling on Saint Rosalia to protect them from another pandemic. Thus far it appears those prayers are being answered, as Sicily has one of the lowest number of cases of COVID-19 in all of Italy.


"Festino di Santa Rosalia a Palermo, carro delle rose" image by Dedda71 is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

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