Chasing Saints in Sardinia

It’s a hard life chasing saints all over the place, but I’ve  managed to squeeze two saints into one month, one Italian and one Spanish.

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.

The Pula cart goes first as it leads the way to the final destination...
Whose job is it to decorate the oxen horns, I wonder?
Is it just me or are these oxen super proud of their festive wear?
This strut speaks for itself, no?
The traditional costumes were awesome.
The Musicians
I fell in love with this family as they passed by...
Work it
I think strutting must be in the Italian genes
Old strut, new strut, it doesn't matter - just strut
How do you say, "Bad Ass" in Italian?
Tyra would be so proud
I have a strict rule about not taking photos of children, and especially not publishing them. But jeez - look at how cute they are!
Some pious souls even went barefoot...
A lesser woman would make snarky comments about flying nuns right now
After the carts and the strutters, came the couples on horseback ... and they're workin it too, right?
So pretty
This was the Honour Guard, I believe. Kind of like the master of ceremonies because everyone clapped when he came out. Although, he could have been Saint Efisio himself for all I know.
The religious ladies came out to sing right before the Saint's arrival.
You can't really see it because of all the mayhem that was surrounding him, but this is the star of the Sardinian show, Saint Efisio! (and just look at those cute Italian guards!)
The mayhem from above


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?

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6 Responses to Chasing Saints in Sardinia

  1. Al Rosa says:

    You did a beautiful job taking these photos and formatting them? Friends from the states were at the festival and also thought it was grand. Nice treat!

  2. Pingback: Carnival of Europe – 1 July edition » Driving Like a Maniac

  3. Katja says:

    I love a good Saint’s Day party. They do them well in Italy, I have to say. La Festa di Sant’Agata in Catania was absolutely fantastic, and seriously impressive in terms of the devotion being shown. I was just having a good time following these guys around the city and taking photos, but then I realised that they were carrying about 10 stone of silver around on their shoulders. No wonder they looked knackered.

  4. What an interesting festival. I know that these are very popular in this area of Italy. Love the clothes!

    • Hamatha says:

      Thanks Jeremy!
      It was one awesome festival. I’m a sucker for any type of marching/parade event and this was one of the best I’ve seen. The people were so very friendly and yes, the traditional clothing was incredible.

      That was my first trip to Sardinia and I’ve just returned from my second trip there. It really is one incredible place. I love everything Italy, but this island is really something special. Have you ever been?

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