Wednesday 19 March 2014

The Festival of Sant'Efisio in Sardinia

The Festival of Sant'Efisio in Pula
The festival of Sant'Efisio, celebrated in early May every year is one of the most important dates in the Sardinian calendar. Visitors to the island have long loved the excuse to photograph the locals dressed in the stunning traditional costumes, hear Sardinian folk music and marvel at the bright colors, flower-strewn streets and festive atmosphere, but few really understand the origins of the festival.

Traditional dress at the Sagra di Sant'Efisio
 Sant'Efisio is the patron saint of Sardinia. Born during the 3rd century AD in Asia Minor to a pagan mother and Christian father, he was enrolled in the Roman army to fight Christians under Dioclesian. During the long journey to Europe however, he underwent an epiphany and converted to Christianity himself. According to the legend, one night he was visited by a vision of a shining cross appearing amongst the clouds accompanied by a voice warning him not to join in the persecution of Christians.

On revealing his conversion to Dioclesian, he was accused of being a traitor to the Roman empire and subsequently imprisoned, tortured and finally martyred on the beach at Nora on the 15th of January 303AD.

A church was built in his honor in the eleventh century, and still stands to this day. It's a stunning location, right on the beach at Nora, and legend claims that it is on the exact spot on which Efisio was decapitated. In Cagliari, Sardinia's capital city, there are both a church and a crypt bearing his name. According to legend, the crypt is where Efisio was imprisoned before being transported to Nora to be put to death. It's open to the public now, and guides will point out the column to which he was supposedly shackled. There's evidence that the site has been used for worship since the 5th century, although recent history has seen it used as both an air-raid shelter and rubbish dump.

Horsemen escorting the saint's image to Nora
The Chiesa di Sant'Efisio in Cagliari was built in the 18th century and is home to the statue of his likeness. Visitors will notice the cannonballs embedded in the back wall, a legacy from the French attack on Cagliari in 1793. The Sardinians were said to have had some help from the saint himself in winning that particular battle.
In 1655, Sant'Efisio was said to have saved Cagliari from a particularly violent outbreak of the plague, which lead to the decision to honor him by giving him his own festival (the Sagra di Sant'Efisio) every May.

Sardinians of all ages take part
On the 1st of May, his statue is dressed in all his finery and loaded onto a golden carriage, pulled by bulls. He is then taken on the long pilgrimage from Cagliari to Nora, escorted by horsemen, locals in vibrant traditional costumes, musicians and pilgrims (some barefoot). The procession arrives in Pula on the 2nd of May, and moves onto Nora that afternoon. The long return journey begins on the 4th of May, and the saint and his escorts will have traveled a total of 80km by the time he is safely returned to his church in the city.

Although the festival has been celebrated in Sardinia for hundreds of years, Sant'Efisio's remains have, until recently been kept in Pisa. The 12th of May 2011 finally saw their return to Cagliari
If you would like to view this year's processions for yourself, there's still plenty of time to book one of our self-catering villas in the Pula or Cagliari area for a front-row view of this fascinating insight into Sardinian culture

Or you can visit our Facebook page for a whole album of photographs of the Sant'Efisio festival

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