The triumph of Saint Filippo, who chases the demons away.

Gisella Lo Castro

S.Filippo, together with Saint George, is the protector and patron Saint of Calatabiano. He was born in Siria in 40 AD. At the age of 20 he was made Deacon and was chosen to preach and evangelize in several areas of the Asia Minor. At the end of his travels he arrived in Rome, where he met St Peter who ordained him and endowed him with the power of freeing souls from the evil. His evangelizing mission brought him in Sicily as well. Therefore, he came to Calatabiano where he converted the inhabitants to Christianity and exorcised many of them.
The worshipping of Saint Filippo led to the creation of many anecdotes about him; one of them is about the colour of the Saint’s skin. According to the legend, Saint Filippo fought with Satan. The Saint easily freed himself from the chains that Satan used to tie him up and to test his faith in God. The Saint reversed the hold and now the devil was tied up with a hair of Saint Filippo’s beard, and he was incapable of breaking it. Therefore, Saint Filippo threw him into a well. Satan invoked and asked for the day of his liberation. Never! – was the Saint’s answer, but Satan misunderstood Saint Filippo for saying may instead of  never * and since then he invokes for May to come soon, which is instead the month when the Saint is celebrated.
Afterwards, Saint Filippo chased the demons to hell, where he was blackened by the soot.

The cult of the Saint dates back to the 8th century. Originally, a simulacrum was built around 1500, but it was destroyed in 1544 due to a sanguinary raid by Saracen pirates. Afterwards, Ferdinando Gravina, Lord of Calatabiano, ordered the construction of a new statue of Saint Filippo. It was placed in the Church of Santissimo Crocifisso and from there, every year it is moved to create the famous “calata” (a characteristic religious procession) as it would remind us of the expulsion of the demons to hell by the exorcist Saint.

A CALATA**. This rite dates back to 1766. Since the first days of May, the shoots of the cannon indicate the approaching festivity that lasts three days. On Friday morning, the “Saint Filippo’s fair” is set, where it is possible to buy several things, from pets to clothes. On the Saturday afternoon preceding the third Sunday of May, the village begins to be crowded with foreigners on their way to Mount Castello, where they start waiting for joining the procession, in the path that leads to Saint Filippo Church.
At 5.30 pm the Historical procession, made of people in disguise of nobles and courtesans, armed soldiers, as well as common people, move from the castle towards the old street of the medieval village. It is 7 pm, everything is ready. The faithfuls begin to shout “Viva San Filippo”. The heavy statue stands at the threshold of the Church of the SantissimoCrocifisso, carried on the shoulders of about sixty faithfuls. Three mortar shots represent the starting signal of a frenetic and unusual descent that ends with the arrival to the Chiesa Madre Santissima Annunziata. The way is uneven because of the rocky steps and the steep slope. All these features combine to make this event even more spectacular. In the amazement of many believers and laics, other gun shots indicate that the Statue of The Saint has arrived at the “Prima Croce” (First Cross), in about six minutes. Here the music band and the faithfuls greet Saint Filippo. Afterwards, the Statue is moved again, but this time at a slower pace. Rose petals fall down from the balconies, the faithfuls hasten to follow and to accompany the Statue to the Chiesa Madre where it is located on the main altar. On the following day, after the afternoon solemn Mass, the Statue is brought in procession along all the streets of the village and it is then brought back to the Church late in the evening. The fireworks at midnight close the festivity.


A CHIANATA***. It takes place on the fourth Sunday of May. The Saint is brought back to his residence, the Church of Santissimo Crocifisso, whilst the citizens admire, cheer and applaud. It is tradition to follow the Statue and to form a human cord during the ascent: men, women and children help one another by pushing each other forward. This view, though being less spectacular than the descent, is equally emotional. The Statue weighs about one ton, so it needs a big effort to be carried on people’s shoulders. The public stands with bated breath until the so-called “dangerous curve” is surpassed. Here the Statue seems to stop and the spectators begin to cheer and applaud. They join the human cord and once again Saint Filippo surpasses the elbow road and continues his way.


* The Italian terms for May and never have got a strong assonance.

** Calata is the Sicilian term for descent.

*** Chianata is the Sicilian term for ascent.

Virginia Vaccaro

Testi | texts

Associazione Culturale Promo Loco
Via Cruyllas Calatabiano.

Traduzione |  translates
Virginia Vaccaro
Traduzione |  translates
Mario Fillioley

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