Horses on a Sacred Journey: Scicli’s ‘Cavalcata di San Giuseppe’

Tina Waldeier Bizzarro


The feast of the father is celebrated every year throughout Sicily on the onomastico or namesake of St. Joseph, beloved of Italy, on 19 March. In the small village of Scicli, situated on a vast plain in southeast Sicily’s Provincia di Ragusa, a splendid and spectacular cavalcade marks and memorialises St. Joseph’s Day, conjoined with the feast of the ‘Flight into Egypt.’ To unravel and understand the intricate ritual, cultural, and religious layers of this blended festival, we will examine the structure and dramaturgy of this cavalcade, with specific attention to the role of these holy beasts as they are ritually transformed into agents of the sacred drama of protection and flight. The horses are caparisoned with saddlecloths woven of thousands of flowers, tintinnabulating belled necklaces, and elaborate and regal feathered headdresses of about 4 feet high—all hand-made weeks before by the townspeople. Their sumptuous regalia mark them as the dramatis personae of this complex and ostentatious ceremony. This essay will illuminate the steps in this ritual parade and some of the long historical relationships between man and beast in Sicily’s quasi-liturgical ceremonies.

Parole chiave

Scicli; Sicily; Cavalcata; festa; St. Joseph

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