The celebration for Saints Cosma and Damiano
The traditional celebrations of the patron saints Cosma and Damiano, doctors and martyrs who were sentenced to death in the second half of the third century AD because of their profound Christian faith, takes place in the last week of September in the picturesque fishing village of Sferracavallo.
The celebration of the Saints developed in the village from the 17th century.
Probably one of the many tortures that, according to Christian tradition , the saints underwent ( they were whipped, bound and thrown into the sea but re-emerged again dancing merrily to the amazement of the crowds) is the basis of the tie between brother doctors of the streets and the quick and happy procession.
The devotion to Saints Cosma and Damiano is deeply felt and handed down from father to son. On the 26th September every year ( the anniversary of the Saints), hundreds of pilgrims show their devotion by travelling to the sanctuary of Sferracavallo to the simulacrum of the saint- doctors.
During the celebration there is a suggestive atmosphere and all the streets are decorated with bright lights which make the village look like a fairy tale in the evenings.
The crowds wander through the streets full of stalls selling souvenirs and coloured sweets with a background of the shining waters of the Golf to complete the scene.
In the days before the Sunday procession ,there are enthusiastic canoeing, cycling, five-a-side football competitions.
There is also the most important competition for the inhabitants; a traditional and picturesque boat race in brightly coloured fishing boats which takes place on the adjacent part of the sea.
The contestants prepare for this during the whole month of September and there are five members to each crew- four rowers and a helmsman.
A few hours before the boat race , all the inhabitants go to the monument to Saints Cosma and Damiano, to watch the exhilarating game called ”antinna a mare”- a tree-trunk is tied to the rocks with the end pointing out to sea and covered with slippery soap right to the end where a tricolore flag is tied.
The contestants dressed in swimsuits and accompanied by a roll of drums have to try to get the flag back by negotiating the trunk acrobatically.
This often results in the contestants falling into the sea to the delight of the spectators.
The boat race that follows is a rare sight which invokes curiosity and delight in the euphoric spectators waiting on the shore.
At about 2pm the beginning of the procession is announced by the continual sound of the church bells calling the devout to take part in the coming out of the effigies of the Saints from the sanctuary.
The heavy “vara” (a kind of palanquin on which the saints are transported) is carried by a lot of porters wearing white robes with two red scarves- one at the neck and the other at the hip- around the streets of the village.
After, the vara is made to dance accompanied by the band and clapping of hands by the many spectators in the streets and on the balconies.
A lot of barefoot people follow the procession, which ends late at night with the dance of the characters and the long haul along the sea road to Saints Cosma and Damiano Square and the final dance.
This is very popular with everybody except the band who are very tired but are exhorted by the public to keep on playing until the vara is inclined by the worn-out porters. The spectacular fire-work show for the Saints attracts many people from all over the territory of Palermo.