The rustling and increasing sound of footsteps, the rhythm of hooves and carriage wheels that advance in unison. Cagliari is crossed once again by a procession of 3000 people in traditional dress, coming from all over Sardinia, followed by more than two hundred horsemen - those of Campidano, the Militiamen and the Guardiania. A combination of colours, costumes, the sound of the launeddas and the is goccius devotional songs: from 1 to 4 May, we celebrate the Festival of Saint Ephysius. The early 4th-century events linked to the warrior saint are re-enacted and the perpetual vow addressed to him during the plague of 1652 is renewed. An entire island stops to repeat a ritual that has lasted almost four centuries.
A majestic procession that covers 65 kilometres and is one of the longest and most ancient in the world, touches the soul of anyone who is involved in it, moving the Sardinian people since time immemorial, while thousands of tourists are captivated by the atmosphere of passion. They take unmistakable photos and unforgettable moments away with them. The procession sets off at midday from the little lanes of the historical district of Stampace. The parade proceeds along a colourful carpet of pink, red and yellow flowers and fragrant essences: it is the ritual of sa ramadura. A journey into the culture of a people begins with faith and authenticity. This year, there is a novelty: along the way, after the passage of the horsemen, while waiting for the Saint, the air will be filled with melodies coming from the voices of four cuncordu ‘formations', that will sing heartrending religious songs.
The magic hovers over the city: the creaking of the traccas, carts decorated with flowers and fruit, and the singing of the brotherhoods accompany the chariot, pulled by two oxen with their horns adorned with garlands of flowers. The route unwinds from the place of the saint’s imprisonment to that of the martyrdom, the beach of Nora, where the little Romanesque church named after the saint stands. There are plenty of intermediate stops: the first day at the churches of Giorgino and su Loi (Capoterra), then Villa d’Orri. The second day, after a night spent in Sarroch, a stop at Villa San Pietro and arrival at Pula. The return on 4 May is late in the evening, after various celebrations. Upon returning to Stampace, the alleys and lanes are again filled with thousands of worshippers who, at the end of the celebrations, say goodbye with the following wish: a atrus annus!
There is a great deal of preparation behind every Festival of Saint Ephysius, now in its 366th edition and soon destined to be part of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. Throughout the year, in all the villages, great care is dedicated to the precious clothes, handed down for generations. The brothers of the confraternity of Gonfalone parade in penitential dress, with a blue habit, and the sisters dress in black, with veils on their heads. The Alter nos representing the municipality, on horseback wearing top hat and tails, accompanies the saint. Ephysius stops in front of the Town Hall to be paid homage by the community, while the church bells ring out in celebration and the echo of the ships’ horns can be heard. It is the most captivating moment, of profound participation. The pilgrimage and the celebrations begin.
In the beginning, it was a solemn promise, made on 11 July 1652 by the municipality of Cagliari to its protector. Since then, the promise has been honoured every spring, with devotion and gratitude, even under the bombings of 1943 and during the pandemic. Ephysius’s intercession was invoked to end the plague, which was devastating the city in the 17th century. Ephysius, born in Asia Minor in the 3rd century AD, was an officer of the Roman army. According to tradition, he converted after having a vision of a shining cross in the sky. Stationed in Sardinia, while his soldiers were fighting the barbarians, he became a defender of Christianity, disobeying Diocletian. The emperor ordered his martyrdom in 303 AD. Before being executed, he promised, as an extreme act of faith, to protect Cagliari and its citizens forever.