Saint Micheal is the patron saint of the town of Caltanissetta. His feast is on September 29th. According to tradition, his cult comes from a legend. In 1625, during the great plague epidemic, most of the Italian peninsula was hit. Caltanissetta was an agricultural town, surrounded by countryside, caves, hilly landscape typical of the Sicilian hinterland. A monastery of Capuchin friars was built on a hillside. One of them, Friar Francesco Giarratana, looking out from the window of his cell, saw St. Michael appear in the sky; almost unbelieving, he stayed watching and noticed the Saint with his sword unsheathed, as if he wanted to stop someone.
The following day, the notables of the city went to see the point of the apparition, not far away outside the walls of Caltanissetta, and in that very place they saw a small cave with a dead person, killed by the plague. St. Micheal had blocked the unhealthy man before he could enter the city, thus stopping the epidemic outbreak. From that time, the Archangel was declared protector of the city. At the same point where the cave stood, a church was erected, which is still dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel.
As a matter of fact, according to some historical events and references, the patron saint has a slightly more pagan background. It was born around the middle of the 16th century, when the Palio dedicated to St. Micheal was held, with an adjoining fair.
Since September was the period of wheat sowing, farmers could understand with a certainty at the limit of imagination, the climate that would have the winter to follow, according to the direction of the wind during the procession of the patron saint.
This belief continued until a few decades ago; the citizens, gathered in the square for the procession and at the end of it, flew some luminous lanterns to see in which direction the wind pulled. hat would have been the direction of the wind throughout the year until the harvest.
The statue of Saint Micheal, built in 1627 by Stefano Livolsi, is preserved in a chapel to the left of the main altar of the Cathedral of Santa Maria la Nova. The saint is “vistutu di casa” (home-made dress) and wears a cloak that remains on his back only to be placed inside the chapel. Before the procession the dress changes and the saint wear “u vistitu bonu” (the good dress), that is a larger cloak, donated by a devotee as a sign of gratitude to the Saint.The procession expands through the streets of the old town center, where the Archangel is brought by the faithful along an established path. At the end, the spectacular fireworks close the procession while St. Michael enters the cathedral.
Today, the festival is one of the most important events in Caltanissetta surrounded by an inevitable trade fair and a large funfair. To commemorate the day of the apparition, another procession takes place, precisely on May 8, in which St. Micheal is brought from the Cathedral to the the church dedicated to him, and then returns to the Mother Church a few days later.
Copyright photos: Luca Miccichè
Article written by: L. Miccichè