May 1st is the most important holiday of the year in Sardinia. This date, which is dedicated to the Workers 'day in many countries of the world, in Sardinia coincides with the Celebration of Sant' Efisio. It is a moment of intense devotion and tradition that culminates in the procession, one of the longest in Europe. I will tell you a little about the celebrations that take place on the joyful May Day in Cagliari: a day dedicated to tradition and faith.
Efisio was a Roman soldier, born in the middle of the third century in Jerusalem. After becoming an officer in the Roman army, he was sent to Italy to fight Christianity. Legend tells that while Efisio was traveling in southern Italy, he saw a blinding glare in the sky, in the shape of a cross, and was thrown off his horse. After this extraordinary event, he saw a cross-shaped sign in the palm of his right hand and immediately converted to Christianity. For this reason, he was accused of infidelity and was imprisoned in Cagliari, where he was then beheaded. The martyrdom took place on the beach of Nora, where a church dedicated to him now stands. This church is also the final destination of the procession dedicated to the saint.
In the following centuries, people prayed to Sant 'Efisio several times during wars and plagues. During the great plague of 1655, the whole city dedicated a procession to the saint, asking him to free the city from the disease. And the plague ceased. As a token of thanks, Cagliari governors made a perpetual vow, with the promise to repeat the procession every year, on May 1st, starting from 1657.
In the procession, in honor of Sant’Efisio, religion, and folklore are closely connected. Almost 4000 people come from all over Sardinia for this procession. Each village is represented by its inhabitants dressed in traditional costumes parading on foot, and by colorful ox carts, adorned with precious flowers and lace, which represent their communities.
The knights open the procession along with the members of the Archconfraternity of the Gonfalone, who escort the chariot with the saint. On the evening of April 30, the statue of the saint is prepared for the trip; the next morning, he is dressed and decorated with gold and precious items. The statue comes out for the procession from the Church of Sant 'Efisio in Stampace district and heads towards the Municipality of Cagliari, where it will be greeted by the sound of the sirens of all the ships in the port.
Following after the saint, ox carts and people in traditional costumes parade. This first part of the path is the most scenic and is one of those experiences worth having at least once in a lifetime. The traditional costumes of Sardinia are really beautiful, different from one another, and the gaze is lost in a myriad of colors.
The beautiful Sardinian women, with their regal bearing, well represent the majesty of this wonderful island. The children also parade in procession, always wearing traditional costumes.
The first part of the route ends in front of the Cagliari City Hall, where the procession stops and, as a sign of devotion, many women dressed in traditional costumes throw flower petals.
This operation is very scenic and colorful. After stopping in front of the municipality, the statue of the Saint continues along with the procession towards the small Church in the Giorgino district, where it arrives around 1 pm. This also where Sant'Efisio is dressed in travel clothes and transferred to the chariot for the countryside. The chariot of the city is very old, Tuscan-made, and dates back to the XVIII century. It is made of wood, and it is decorated with gold ornaments, in a Baroque style. The chariot of the countryside is simpler and less ancient.
In the early afternoon, the procession arrives in Maddalena Spiaggia, in the Municipality of Capoterra, and a mass is organized in honor of the saint in Su Loi. Subsequently, at sunset, the procession reaches Villa d'Orri, guest of the 'Marquises of Villa Hermosa', where the Eucharistic blessing is celebrated. In the end, the procession continues the journey and arrives in Sarroch. The chariot is accompanied to the church of Santa Vittoria, where a solemn Mass is celebrated, and then there is a stop for the night.
On May 2, the procession arrives in Pula, with an intermediate stop in Villa San Pietro. It then arrives in the evening, around 9 pm in Nora, the place of martyrdom of the saint. Throughout May 3, there is the commemoration of the Martyr with masses and religious celebrations in the Romanesque Church of Nora. In the afternoon, a procession takes place along the sea, where the statue of the saint is carried on the shoulders to visit the sites of his martyrdom.
On May 4, the procession returns to Cagliari, and the statue of the Saint is brought back to the Church of Sant 'Efisio. The devoted then vow and promise to commit to a new celebration in the following year.
The celebrations in honor of Sant’Efisio have never been interrupted, even during the wars. In the documentation of past editions, it is recalled that, during the Second World War, while Cagliari was under bombs, the procession took place with the presence of a few people and without its folkloristic part. The saint on that occasion was transported on a cart used to transport milk, among the rubble. Also, in 2020, the year of the pandemic of COVID-19, the celebrations were reduced to the mere passing of the saint with the presence of a few people, to avoid gatherings.
So, if you are planning a visit to Sardinia, I would definitely recommend starting your holiday by following those celebrations between tradition and faith, on May Day in Cagliari. If you desire to admire the parade and enjoy this procession in detail, you can book tickets to sit comfortably in the stands. It will be an unforgettable experience, and when you return home, you will still have the warmth of the Sardinian people shaped in your memory!
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