I know – my coolness is palpable.
So, I’ve already told you the modernly twisted version of Madrid’s Patron Saint San Isidro, but now I would like to fill you in on another saint, St. Efisio of Cagliari, Sardinia and I’ll try to keep it straight this time, okay?
San Efisio, or Ephysius of Sardinia, is the patron saint of Pisa and Sardinia, but is especially revered in Cagliari. While both saints are celebrated in May, their similarities end there. Madrid’s San Isidro is known for his piousness and is certainly held in high esteem, but San Eifisio serves as more of a hero figure to the people of Cagliari.
Efisio was a Roman Soldier originally sent to Sardinia by the Roman Emperor to suppress Christianity on the island. However, on his way to Cagliari, he saw a vision and quickly became a strong follower of Christ.
When asked to renounce his faith in Cagliari by his army friends he refused and was subsequently imprisoned. In the year 303, he was sent to Nora where he was beheaded by a Roman Soldier, becoming a martyr for Christianity and the people of Sardinia.
But this would not be the last heroic act of the Saint. He came back later in time to save the people of Sardinia from certain death. In 1652, when thousands of people in Sardinia were dying from the plague and half the population of Cagliari had already died, Sardinians turned to Saint Efisio for help and thanks to their faith and prayers, the scourge (favorite word alert!) was defeated by the saint.
And so, every year since 1656, on May 1st, thousands of people come to Cagliari to celebrate this brave and respected Saint.
Living in Spain, I have been around the saint celebration block few times now, but I have to tell you that the celebration that Cagliari puts on for Efisio is one of the most dedicated (and colorful) events I’ve ever seen.
People come to Cagliari from every region of Sardinia. They arrive in traditional dress and many are carried by carts pulled by two enormous oxen while others follow on foot. As they pass by, many women and men sing traditional songs from their area.
The procession itself had five parts - the ox carts called traccas start the event, followed by 3,500 people from various regions walking (or strutting as the case may be) behind the oxen, followed by 300 more people on horseback and then the Militiamen and the Honour Guard lead the arrival of the saint. The procession lasts over 2 hours before they finally carry Saint Efisio through the streets, followed by thousands of people.
From Cagliari, the procession continues on to Nora, the Saint’s final resting place, which is about an hour’s drive from Cagliari. So they walk and walk and walk and, at sunset, the procession stops and they spend the night in a large field, singing and dancing all night long.
The next morning they continue onwards to Nora, where they lay the saint in the seaside church that was erected in his honor, “The waves of the sea beat impetuously against the marble ruins: the same marble ruins that were the pride of the pagans and which time has brought down, while Christ’s hero marches on through the centuries.”
So as you can see, there is quite a bit of dedication to San Efisio. I don’t really want to get into who does their saint parties better, but I have to tell you that those Sardos kind of kick Madrid’s butt as far as dedication goes. I mean, this is like Semana Santa, El Camino and Burning Man all wrapped into one.
Also, I have to say that I always avoid that dicey little argument about whether Europe is better than America or vice versa. It’s a ridiculous argument. But its kind of a shame that we don’t have traditional garb. I mean, what will be our clothing legacy, Walmart?