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Illuminations, colours, firecrackers and devotion
SAINT PAUL'S FEAST
IN PALAZZOLO ACREIDE
N°06 June 1999 - Pagg.
and photos by Vincenzo Anselmo)
There are several reason that will lead us to visit
Palazzolo Acreide, a charming village that rises on a
hill on the southern side of the valley of the Anapo
River, in the hinterland of the province of Syracusa.
First of all is the interesting archaeological site not
far from the village; then the peculiar urban lay-out
with many Baroque monuments scattered here and there;
the huge artistic patrimony preserved especially in
churches, works of art made by the major artists of
every period; there is a remarkable museum where
thousands of objects, gathered by the anthropologist A.
Uccello and dating from the late 1800s, relevant to the
tradition and culture of country life, are on display.
At the beginning of summer an interesting religious and
cultural event attracts many visitors to Palazzolo
Acreide. From June 27 to 29 the people of the village
celebrate in a very magnificent way, their patron St.
The devotion for St. Paul at Palazzolo Acreide has a
very old origin. Maybe it started many centuries before
he was really chosen as patron saint, in 1688, instead
of the Madona Odigitria. The reason for such “change” of
patron saint is the presence in the town of a numerous
confraternity devoted to St. Paul as well as the
people's need to be under the protection of a saint that
is able to help them more than any other, because of the
uncertainty of everyday life and for their complete
reliance on the produce of the land. And in this case it
could have been no one else but St. Paul.
The two celebrations in his honour occur in two
different periods of the year very important for farmers:
on January 25 – the day when the saint was converted to
Christianity – when wheat in the fields is just a tiny
shoot and the long cold winter may be a menace, so its
the right time to pray for suitable weather conditions
in order to have a good harvest; on June 29 – the day of
the saint's martyrdom – when wheat is being harvested
and people give thanks to the saint for the good crop,
asking as well for more and more plentiful ones in the
But the beginning of summer is also the most dangerous
period for all workers that go harvesting in the fields.
Such dangers are caused by bites of poisonous insects or
snakes, which are so frequent in the sunny fields around
This is another reason why St. Paul was the best saint
to rely on, as he always was considered to heal snake
bites. The origin of such tradition is linked to the
incident quoted in the Books of the Apostles according
to which a viper bit St. Paul whilehe was in Malta, and
he had no consequences.
The designation of St. Paul as the patron of the town
stirred up the disappointment of one part of the village.
In fact it roused a deep rivalry between the
“Sampaulisi” and the “Sammastianisi”, respectively
devotees of St. Paul and of the Madonna Odigitria. Such
rivalry went on for several centuries. It accentuated
during the 1800s when the church of St. Sebastian, where
the population of the homonymous district went to
worship the Madonna Odigitria, was rised to be a parish
church. At present, a slight rivalry between the two
opposing groups still rises during the celebrations in
honour of St. Sebastian and St. Paul. Over the centuries
the festivity has remained the same as in the past,
although this century is so strongly characterised by
“modernisation” processes and by social and cultural
Since the beginning of the past century the dreary
penitential act called “lingua a trascinuni”, very
common during many religious celebrations in southern
Italy, consisting in crawling from the entrance of the
church to the main altar dragging the tongue on the
floor, has disappeared. Since 1949, the tradition of
leading mules, horses, sheep, goats, cows and calves or
any other animal wearing a red ribbon on the neck and an
image of St. Paul on the forehead along the streets of
the town and then inside the church, where they were
forced to kneel down in front of the statue of St. Paul
to be blessed, has been forbidden.
Also the “ciarauli” have disappeared, the population
believed that such men had supernatural powers. People
considered them as protectors from the bites of reptiles,
and because of such virtue they were thought to descend
directly from St. Paul, which was considered the first “ciaraulo”.
These men used to partecipate in the celebrations
carrying snakes in their hands, on their shoulders or
around their neck. Pitrè, in his book on Religious
festivities in Sicily, says that «women of every age,
young girls and spouses, which would run away just at
the sight of a snake in the fields, will go close and
even keep them on their aprons, watching them unmoved
some times touching them. All this caused by the
strength of devotion, or the example of the others, or
the power of suggestion for everything that is happening
around them!». Nowadays there are no more these men, but
still people believe that it is necessary to invoke St.
Paul to be protected from bites.
At present festivities start on June 27 with “a sirata a
villa” (an evening in the park). Then it goes on the
following day, in the late afternoon, with a music band
going along the streets of the town. Soon after a wooden
statue of St. Paul (made by Vincenzo Lorefice, a
sculptor from Ragusa), that has been covered by a mantle
since the month of January, is carried outside the
church amidst the sound of bells ringing, firecrackers
and the crowd loudly crying “Viva San Paulu... Viva San
Paulu... e cchi siemu tutti muti... viva lu gran
patrunu” (Hurray for St. Paul, are we all dumb, hurray
for the great patron saint).
During this celebration the shouts of the people, the
firecrackers and the bells make a very loud noise that
makes one hear nothing, but doesn't prevent devotees
from praying and establishing a loud voice direct
dialogue with the saint to ask for a grace. These are
very touching moments, but only on the following day the
celebrations reach their climax.
At about 9.00 in the morning the music band and the
“bread cart” start going across the streets of the town.
The cart is a special hand painted pushcart that is used
to collect the “cudduri” – donut shaped breads with
snake decorations – which are offered by the faithful
and then, after being blessed in the church, sold at the
highest bidders. During the morning lots of pilgrims go
back and forth from the church to follow the various
religious functions. Many devotees make te vow, called
the “spadda nura” (naked shoulder), of carrying the
heavy statue of the saint on their naked shoulders. As
there are so many faithful aiming at this privilege,
people tie a handkerchief on the poles that support the
statue to get their position in the procession.
During the same morning, hundreds and hundreds of
faithful and tourists start gathering in the small
square in front of the church awaiting the most exciting
moment of the feast: “a sciuta”, the exit, at 1.00 pm,
of the relics and the statue of St. Paul from the
church. At the end of the Mass the statue of St. Paul is
removed from the main altar and arranged on the
processional array, then carried out together with the
relics of the saint. Outside the church the sound of
bells ringing, the music of the band, the shouts of the
bearers and of the faithful, the firecrackers, the
throwing of thousands of pieces of paper with “Viva S.
Paolo” written on and of long stripes of coloured paper,
called “nzareddi”, welcome the procession. In a moment
the imposing Baroque façade of the church, which has
been decorated since the morning with hundreds of fire
crackers and light guns to shoot the “nzareddi”,
“vanishes” as it were “absorbed” by the continuous
explosions, the guns firing, a huge cloud of smoke and
by the thousands of “nzareddi” that fall down, wriggling
like snakes, over the processional array, the bearers
and the crowd of faithful.
After several fireworks, the relic and the statue of St.
Paul between blue and red flags and followed by numerous
women that have made the vow of the “viagghiu scausu”,
that is to follow the procession bare foot, are carried
along some of the streets of the oldest part of the
Plentiful money offerings that devotees attach on
special ribbons as well as naked children that parents
lift up to youngsters standing on the processional array
in order to be raised towards the statue of St. Paul
and, while people cry “Viva S. Paulu... e cchi siemu
tutti muti... viva S. Paulu patrunu”, be consecrated to
St. Paul, characterise the whole procession.
The procession goes on in this way until it reaches the
Mother Church, where the relic and the statue are left
until the evening. Then another procession starts again
through the streets of the town to accompany the statue
back to the church of St. Paul, where it will arrive
late in the evening and the celebrations will end with
Visit the website
in the prestigious World Heritage List UNESCO
Baroque Towns of the Val di Noto": Caltagirone, Militello
Val of Catania, Catania, Modica, Famous, Palazzolo Acreide,
Ragusa Ibla, Scicli.
archaeological zone between most ancient in the Italian
panorama, with a beautiful greek theatre, roman-hellenistic
One of the most famous and appreciated attractions of
Palazzolo Acreide is certainly "House-museum of Antonino
the years of passionate and hard work, the Sicilian
ethnologist, has collected and put in order interesting
testimonies and precious materials about the life and folk
site hosts 12 large reliefs called "Santoni". It is the
greatest sanctuary to date uncovered, dedicated to the cult
of the oriental goddess of fertility Cibeles.
ruins of the Norman castle and the surrounding medieval
urban planning structure.
historical center of great architectonic value, strongly
characterized from a Baroque architecture, fruit of the
reconstruction post-earthquake of 1693 and, subsequently,
from the season of the Art Noveau.
religious manifestations like the festivity of S. Paul and
S. Sebastiano, known in all the Sicily.
Youth Festival of Classical Theatre.
Every year, during May, at greek theatre many groups of
highschools students from all over Italy and the rest of
Europe perform tragedies and comedy by classical authors.
several exhibitions proposed by the House-museum "Antonino
Uccello", the agricultural and food- Review of the products
and typical food... and more...
is very lively in Palazzolo Acreide and is one of the oldest
in Sicily. As well as the parade of the allegorical cars and
groups dressed up, you may taste in various food festivals
the typical Palazzolo's food products like the sausage,
trout pastry, macaroni, cavatieddi (a typical local pasta)
extremely varied landscape, with the Natural Reserve
of Cava Grande and the Natural Reserve of the
presence, in the beam of little kilometers, archaeological
and historical important archaeological zone like Kasmenai,
Ancient Avola, Castelluccio, Pantalica, the several
bizantine churches, etc.
St. Lucia watermill, is one of the four water-mills started
by the torrent Purbella. It dates back to the XVI century.
It is perfectly kept, plunged in an uncontaminated valley,
shaded by oak-trees and walnut-trees.Inside the building is
the Museum of the Millstone where permanent displays and
millstones of different shapes illustrate the development of
the cereals grindind technique, from pre-history up to