Traditions and worship linked to St. Calogero are so deep rooted in Petralia Sottana that commonly inhabitants and nearby communities believe that the saint has always been the patron of the town. Officially, the patron saint is St. Joseph. The people of Petralia began to consider St. Calogero as the patron in 1840, but his veneration is already documented from the first half of the XVII century (when the statue was sculpted by Friar Umile Pintorno). The cholera epidemic of 1837, considered by the people as a divine punishment, influenced certainly this determination, and people began to invoke the intercession of St. Joseph and St. Calogero. Up to 1877 the Church has continued to consider St. Joseph Patron, but for the people, even in conjunction with the great cattle fair, the main festival became the feast of St. Calogero.
The bells start ringing with the tolling of the Lord’s Prayer, that warns people that Saint Calogero is ready to be celebrated solemnly. At six o’clock a member of the Committee puts in the statue of the saint a reicola, that is the reliquary with the relic. Then the members of the Committee arrange a banquet at the entrance of the Church to gather offerings, and in exchange give holy pictures and blessed votive bread. Songs, prayers and distribution of votive breads conclude the first morning, followed by several masses. In the meantime faithful keep bringing to the statue of Saint gold, little bells, votive offerings, lilies, roses, feverfew, red valerian, laurel branches, bunches of entwined wheat, green broad beans, black cherry twigs, little apples (of the variety Cannameli) that later will be tied with colored ribbons to the Saint’s vara (palanquin).
The day of the feast in the afternoon, after half an hour of long bells summon, at the end of Vespers, some young members of the Committee, under the direction of a senior member, climb on the high altar in order to take the Statue of the Saint. People start to crowd to touch or kiss the Saint or to rub a handkerchief against the statue and take it home.
After having arranged the Saint upon the palanquin, the rhythm of the altar bell’s peal frantically increases. The Statue is ‘dried’ with a white linen cloth with the Saint’s initials (rite of ‘drying the sweat’). This cloth will be preserved and lent on request to sick people of the town. Immediately after the Latin litanies, the President, who coordinates the bearers of the palanquin (called chiddu ca chiama a vara – the man who ‘calls’ the palanquin), places himself between the palanquin’s boards and shouts: -Priparamu! (“Let’s get ready!”). The bearers place themselves under the palanquin’s boards, embracing each other, and the President shouts: -Simu pronti? (“Are we ready?”) and, saying this, raises his arms shouting: -Ludamu e ringraziamu lu Santissimu Sacramientu! (“Praise and thanks to the Blessed Sacrament!”) and people answer: – Viva San Caloriu! “(Hurrah for Saint Calogero!”).
The crowd stands aside while the palanquin, raised, moves slowly outward. The persistent sounds of the bell keep ringing until the exit of the Saint. As soon as the tips of the palanquin’s boards appear, the pyrotechnician is warned through a handkerchief that is time to prime fireworks. The start of the procession is announced by firecracker shots, drum rolls and juggling with the standard (u Paliu).
Traditionally St. Calogero leaves the Church backwards, in order to not point the back towards the Blessed Sacrament, kept in the chapel of the same name. The procession consists of 18 stops in memory of the day when the Saint, dying, reached the glory. The stops are the moments to gather the offerings. The procession starts in the chaos; the Brotherhoods and Congregations do not join the parade because they historically represent socio-economic class distinctions, whereas St. Calogero is the feast of common people. Until the 40s even the clergy did not attend the procession, with the exception of the Rector of the Altar of St. Calogero.
In some points of the route the bearer form a catina (the chain), to facilitate the climbing of steep streets and the braking in the down hills (only the palanquin weighs 1800 kilos!). In some stops the bearers are refreshed with cookies and wine, while votive bread is offered to everybody. After each stop the bearers always do the same ritual: – Priparamu! Ludamu e ringraziamu lu SS Sacramientu , e Viva San Caloriu! And the procession starts again.
The Saint in his palanquin returns to the church after a long way, and begins A spinnata da vara e du Santu: the Saint is stripped of its precious garment and covered with wooden ones. Finally, the statue is raised to his altar in Mother-Church. The offerings-boxes are emptied and the money quickly counted, while the palanquin is stripped of the decorations that will be taken to the houses of the absents for sickness.