St. Agatha is Catania's patron saint and is celebrated in February from the 3rd to the 5th with one of the largest religious processions in Italy.
Agatha lived during the third century AD, when Sicily was under the Roman Empire, and was the daughter of an important rich local family. She was very religious and dedicated her life to God.
She became a martyr when she refused the advances of the Roman proconsul Quintian, who was in love with her. He arrested her. He thought that when faced with torture and possible death she would give in, but Agatha refused to abandon her faith, not even after being sent to prison and tortured in the attempt to change her mind.
One of the torture she was inflicted, was that she had her breast cut off.
It is said that after she returned to prison, the Apostle Peter appeared to her and healed her wounds. The following day she was subjected to new tortures, but an earthquake from Mount Etna shook the town and terrified the people.
In the end, she died on the 5th of February 251 AD.
Since that day, the saint protects the city and its inhabitants: just a year after her martyrdom, a violent eruption was miraculously stopped by holding up a veil that had belonged to the unfortunate girl. According to legend, the veil stopped the flow of lava.
People in Catania are particularly devoted to Saint Agatha. When the city is threatened by a possible eruption of the volcano Etna, they take the relics of Saint Agatha on the mountain in a procession asking for a miracle to stop the lava flow.
It is no wonder then that the city of Catania, at the foothills of Europe's largest volcano, dedicates its most important religious festivity to St. Agatha.
The procession begins on the 4th of February.
At dawn, after a special mass, the St. Agatha statue, which houses her relics, is placed on the ”fercolo”, a silver carriage and pulled by around 5,000 men.
The huge festival lasts for two days and two nights during which the procession goes around various areas of the city. More than a million people follow St. Agatha.
Many of them carry gigantic heavy candlesticks, some of which are wonderfully decorated. There is also a huge fireworks display at the end and you can buy sweets based on centuries-old recipes.