The best way to truly understand a region and its people is always to witness one of their sacred traditions, to be a part of something that means the world to them and has been passed on from one generation to the next. In the small city of Cagliari on Sardinia the Sant’Efisio processions offer such insight to any visitor who wants to catch a glimpse of the real Sardinia.
While the rest of Italy celebrates Labor Day on May 1st, the people from all over the island of Sardinia come together on this day to commemorate someone who is very special to them: Sant’Efisio. According to tradition a terrible plague struck the island in 1652 and killed half the population of Sardinia. More than ten thousand died alone in Cagliari and the survivors turned to Saint Efisio to save the city. When the epidemic passed in May 1657, the people who were spared kept the promise they had made and honored the martyred saint who had saved them, by carrying his sacred image in procession from Cagliari to Nora, the city where he had been executed. This started the age-old tradition that is now claimed to be the biggest and most colorful religious procession in the world.
A magical celebration of folklore and faith, as well as the sacred and the profane, the 1st of May unites people from all over the island in Cagliari to take part in the procession. More than 5,000 take part in the procession, and all are dressed in traditional costume, making this the island’s most authentic festival. The procession starts by the church in the Stampece district where the statue of the saint is kept; and then follow 4 days of procession through different towns and villages on Sardinia until it reaches Nora, where Sant’Efisio was killed. Carried on a 17th century gold-plated coach drawn by oxen, the statue is accompanied by “Guardiania” and the music of the traditional Sardinian pipes “launeddas”. Thirty ox-drawn “traccas” lead the way with the spectacular horsemen who are dressed in the colors of their district. Entire families take part in the procession and they all wear their authentic traditional costumes from head to toe and proudly show their beautifully decorated carts with hand-made rugs and blankets and the oxen adorned with garlands and flowers. The more than thirty communities throughout Sardinia are represented in theses colorful carts. The most famous part of this procession is probably when the statue passes the flower-lined street Via Roma in Cagliari (this ritual is called “sa ramadura”) where thousands of red, orange and yellow rose petals cover the whole avenue and their scent are filling the air.
After the saint has reached Nora on the 4th of May, the statue starts to make its way back to Cagliari, to be kept save until next years celebrations. Being one of the largest and most colorful religious festivals in the world, the Sant’Efisio procession is a unique opportunity to understand and get to know today’s Sardinia. This festival with traditional dress, customs and habits allow us to glimpse into Sardinia’s past and help us understand the beautiful island. Come and stay in one of our apartments in Sardinia to experience the real essence of the island!