Saturday, August 15, 2009

Ferragosto and the Feast of Maria SS. Della Catena

The religious holiday of Ferragosto is celebrated in Italy on the 15th of August. The word Ferragosto is derived from the Latin ‘feriae Augusti’ meaning ‘Emperor August’s holidays’. The feriae celebrated the middle of summer and the end of hard work in the fields. The holiday was adopted by the Catholic Church to commemorate the Assumption of Mary. Today, most Italians are on vacation during the month of August and the religious holiday has more or less reverted to the enjoyment of one’s vacation.

In Sicily the first Sunday after Ferragosto is followed by the celebration of the Madonna della Catena. The Festa in honor of Librizzi’s Patron Saint,is considered one of the best in Sicily. Librizzesi celebrate the much awaited Festa with three days of jubilant celebrations, feasts, music, fireworks, and other traditional activities.

On the appointed day, the beautiful marble statue of Maria SS. Della Catena is carried in a procession through the streets of Librizzi by 24 barefooted men. The statue of San Michele Arcangelo is carried in front of the Madonna (San Michele is a beautiful wooden statue. I will tell the story of this statue in a future blog entry.) During the procession some of the devout Librizzesi walk shoeless and often also backwards, in their arms they carry baskets of flowers. They do this as an ex voto, a thank you for a favor received through the intercession of the Madonna. Throughout the procession, as the Madonna passes by the spectators, shouts of “Viva Maria” are heard. The sound of the zampogna (a musical instrument similar to a bagpipe) is heard as is the religious music played by the orchestra marching . Now and then the sounds of small fireworks are also heard. All along the procession route the balconies are decorated with beautiful embroidered sheets and tablecloths, colorful blankets, tapestries, etc.

The zampogna is played in earnest when the statue arrives at a certain location where an ancient walnut tree grows. This is to commemorate the legend associated with the arrival of the statue in Librizzi, in the 1540s. According to the legend, when the statue arrived in the area of Librizzi called Maisale it became so heavy that the oxen, who were pulling the cart on which sat the statue, could no longer pull it. The oxen were able to continue their march to Librizzi center only after the humble zampogna (also called ciaramedda) was played.

The Madonna is credited for a miracle that occurred during the procession of 1573. A child whose name was Bittuzza , was placed on the fercolo (a decorated cart on which the statues are carried) next to the statue, where she fell asleep. Bettuzza had a paralyzed arm but when she woke up her arm was no longer paralyzed.

The following is an excerpt from the “Remembrances” that I wrote for my grandchildren:

“To celebrate the special day, the women prepared a feast which always included roasted meat called castrato al forno, and a vegetable mixture cooked under the dripping roast, etc. There was always a fair in the piazza where people from Librizzi and nearby towns displayed their wares, foods, toys for children, etc. It was fun for a child to go from stand to stand and look over the offerings,a toy might be bought, an ice cream cone would be enjoyed, and so on. The greased pole tradition was fun for a child to see. A heavily greased long pole would be set up in the piazza, at the top sat a clay pot full of money (The modern piñata has its roots in this pole and pot, the word piñata actually means clay pot.). Young men then took their turn in trying to scale the greased pole, whoever managed to make it to the top would claim the money.

La Pentolaccia, the modern day version of the 'greased pole and clay pot'

Music was an important part of the festivities. There were always concerts given by the local orchestra as well as by professional musical groups who were hired to perform. The festivities culminated at midnight with spectacular fireworks, which for me were always frightening and exciting at the same time.”

The statue of the Librizzi Madonna was sculpted by the famous Antonino Gagini (1510s-1574), or by the school of Gagini. Antonino was a member of a family of sculptors and architects whose origins were in Northern Italy but active in all of Italy. The Gagini family arrived in Sicily in 1463 and settled in Palermo and Messina. The family of sculptors included the grandfather Domenico Gagini, his son Antonello (born in Palermo in 1478), and five grandsons, Antonino, Fazio, Giacomo, Giandomenico, Vincenzo. Their workshop was in Palermo and supplied monumental religious sculptures for the cathedrals of Palermo, Messina, and other cities. Antonello had been a student of Brunelleschi, and is reputed to have collaborated with Michelangelo on the Julius II tomb.

Maria SS. Della Catena was sculpted in Palermo in the early 1540s.It was the most beautiful Madonna among several others sculpted around that time. Several towns including Librizzi wanted the statue and a fierce dispute arose, Librizzi was the lucky winner.

The statue resides in the church of Maria SS. Della Catena and located right under the Muscara’ Family Stemma (Coat of Arms).



  1. Maria, It's very interesting to read about other cultures and traditions. Very nice photos, too.

  2. Dorothy,thank you. The holiday was celebrated this past weekend. If they are not there already, soon there will be photos on

  3. Your photos are beautiful and your stories of you and your country are wonderful! A treasure for your descendants.

  4. Greetings Maria from Georgia. I found you thru Dorothy's blog. What a fascinating post and pictures. So very nice to meet you.

  5. Good morning Mildred. Nice to find your message on the blog. For a minute I thought that you were one of my sisters who live in Georgia.
    Thank you for comments and encouragement to keep on writing my little stories.
    Dorothy is a wonderful person, very thoughtful, and helpful.
    Wishing you a wonderful Thursday.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.