Sardinia and Sant’Efisio: an endless love story
“Please, Lord, to protect the city of Cagliari from the invasion of the enemies. Make his people abandon the cult of the Gods, reject the deceptions of the Devil and recognise You, Jesus Christ Our Lord, as the only true God. Grant that the sick who will pray at my burial place may recover their health, and whoever is in danger in the sea or threatened by invaders, tormented by hunger or plague, after invoking me, Your servant, may be brought to safety.”
Legend has it that Sant’Efisio, on the verge of death, uttered this very prayer: those who visit Sardinia cannot fail to know the story of this character so important to the Sardinians … do not get caught unprepared, read on!
That towards Sant’Efisio is a devotion that has continued, invariably every year, since 1657: in that year the great procession was held for the first time to thank the martyr for the end of the plague.
The sacred ceremony represents a perfect combination of faith, culture and popular traditions, a fascinating moment that attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world.
Every May 1, the procession takes place where the vow made by the municipality of Cagliari is dissolved and is still kept today in the Historical Archive: in the vow, the intervention of Sant’Efisio is invoked and he is asked to end the plague, in exchange promises to celebrate a solemn feast every year.
The journey of the procession retraces the places of the Saint: from the prison where he was imprisoned to the place of martyrdom in Nora, to then return to the church in the Stampace district (Cagliari) dedicated to him, on 4 May by midnight.
The story of Efisio
Efisio was born around the middle of the third century AD, a period when the Roman Empire was in turmoil: the emperor Diocletian proposed himself as an absolute monarch and tried to impose this cult also onto Christians, with whom he clashed. The future saint enlisted in the Roman army, but during the transfer, he saw a cross in heaven, with thunder and lightning around: Efisio fainted and in that unconscious condition he heard the word of Jesus Christ inviting him to follow his religion, announces his victories and the violence that awaits him, finally communicating his death as a martyr. Upon awakening, a sign was imprinted in the hand of the saint: a cross.
He decided to be baptized in Gaeta and to fight for his new faith: knowing that in Sardinia there are barbarian tribes (hence the name of the Barbagia area) who lived in the mountains inside the island. He left to defend the Christian population.
After defeating the barbarians he moved to Cagliari where he tried to proselytise and convert more people to Christianity.
Emperor Diocletian cannot tolerate such a situation and orders Efisio to renounce his faith and his men to carry out persecutory actions against converts. The future saint does not deny his faith and is subjected to unspeakable tortures, which he miraculously survives: this only increases his fame and brings new followers into the ranks of Christianity.
Following the failure of the other tortures inflicted on the saint, Diocletian decrees his death sentence: this will not take place in the city of Cagliari, but in Nora, to prevent revolts at the hands of the Christian faithful.
The sentence was carried out in 303 or 305 AD: at the point of death, Efisio asked God to protect Cagliari from enemies, to heal the sick faithful who go on pilgrimage to the place where his remains are kept, to grant what is requested to those who turn to him in case of difficulty.
In the second half of the seventeenth century, the plague spread throughout Italy: in Sardinia the epidemic arrived from some Spanish sailors, but Cagliari was most affected, the capital saw its population almost halved.
It is said that in 1657 Saint Efisio appeared to the viceroy to request, to free the city from the plague, the vote of the procession: if the Saint had managed to defeat the plague, every year celebrations would have been held in his honour and there would have been a procession which, starting from the Stampace district, would have reached Nora, where Efisio was killed. In September of the same year, the rains washed away the plague and hitherto, the promise was always kept.
The pilgrimage lasts 4 days, for a total of about 60 km.
The legend of Efisio holds a basis of indisputable truth, because, after his sacrifice, the people will love him increasingly and will invoke him in every situation of need: if a prerogative of the saints is to be popular among the people, Efisio is one of these.
The relationship of the Sardinians with Sant’Efisio is intense and profound: tangible proof of the importance and devotion to this festival?
The procession was also held in 1943, in a Cagliari devastated by bombings (and still at risk), where the saint’s statue was transported by a van, as a symbol of hope and rebirth (there are videos, seeing is believing).
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