Festa di San Leone (February 19-20, 2011) ~ Saracena, CS
On Saturday, February 19th, my roommate and I headed to her village called Saracena. It is located high up in the mountains near Castrovillari. We were visiting her town to celebrate the Festa di San Leone, the patron saint of Saracena.
As we pulled into her town the streets were almost completely taken over by huge piles of tree branches. They would later become bonfires to light the way for the people participating in the fiaccolata (torchlight walk) through the town as well as welcome them to typical foods and homemade wines. In the early evening, the church was packed tight for the mass and distribution of blessed bread. Once the mass was over, the people poured out into the already full streets and piazzas outside of the church. Many people had their torches lit, ready to begin the long walk through the very steep streets of Saracena. We passed many of the piles of tree branches which had now become big bonfires lighting up the streets and providing a bit of warmth as the night set in.
The procession is not a quiet one like the ones I’m accustomed to. Everyone is dancing, cheering, and playing music. It is a very happy and celebratory occasion. Throughout the walk we stopped to admire the many displays of fireworks that were organized along the route. We decided to take a shortcut towards the end of the procession so that we could be at the church for the final part of this journey. We made our way to the front of the church and stood beside the altar.
The church began to fill up with people again, singing various songs in honor of San Leone, Bishop of Catania. Then, one by one, various groups of musicians proceeded to the altar and stopped in front of the Statue of San Leone perched high above the altar and began to play. This went on for at least a half hour with a total of 6 or 7 different musical groups.
After the procession we ate dinner and then walked the town again, this time visiting all the different bonfires we had passed during the procession. At every bonfire was music, singing, food and wine that went on until the early morning hours. It is tradition that on this day you open your house to everyone and share food and drink together.
I have never experienced anything quite like this festival before. It was full of positive energy and celebration, which I guess is why so many people come from all over to participate in this festival. It is an experience I will never forget.