Cittadini! Viva Sant'Agata! Cittadini! Viva Sant'Agata.

For the last few days, the air has been full of these cries, cutting through the hubbub of the streets and uniting the voices in prayer.

As you may have already seen in my earlier posts, these offerings are paraded around the streets by being hoisted onto the backs of young men and carried for a few metres at a time (they look bloody heavy!)

Here are some of those cheeky chappies now, having an early lunch after all their hard work:

But who is Sant'Agata? If you're not Catholic or from Catania, you probably won't know.

I didn't until I went to see a puppet show telling the story - I warn you now that this contained scenes of graphic violence even though there were children in the audience. In fact, most of the audience was children. I was certainly traumatised but that's not saying much as I panic as soon as a film is certified 15 or above. Anyway.

Agata was a beautiful young woman who was very devoted to the Christian faith. The naughty man sitting on the throne below decided he wanted to have sex with her (as often happens in Italian stories - see Promessi Sposi by Manzoni) but she wouldn't because she loved Jesus.

As a way of punishment (and this is when things get a bit iffy especially when you look at that porn star bod the Saint's got there), she was subjected to horrific and humiliating torture.

The poor and beautiful Agata had her breasts forcibly removed (yes, that's right, you are watching a puppet have her nipples clipped off. I was horrified. I was as outraged as I was when I saw the birth scene in Twilight. The children!! The children!!! What were their parents thinking?!!)

They also forced her to roll on hot coals naked but apparently that was too much to show live on stage. Anyway Etna got all angry about it and killed the bad guys.

Then she had a triumphant little chuckle to herself.

And eventually Agata died from her injuries (even though God made her boobs grow back which I just think is a cruel joke to be honest. If someone clipped my tits off, I'd really rather divine intervention just left them alone rather than giving me new ones). She was made a saint for her devotion to religion even in the face of such horrendous torture.

So now you know a bit about the wonderful, beautiful Agata. There is probably a lot more to discover but that is what I understood from the puppet show. You are probably better off googling it.

Every year on the 3rd-5th of February, the city explodes with celebrations and offerings dedicated to the saint.

And on the 4th of February, people crowd into the Piazza Duomo to see the special mass dedicated to Agata and to see the saint leave the cathedral. At 5am. Who would do such a silly thing?

You may well ask.

Although I wouldn't rush and do it again tomorrow (partly because I still haven't recovered yet), it was definitely worth it simply for the beautiful and humbling atmosphere that settles over the square. Top tip: wear at least two or three layers all over your body.

Once all of the tradesmen's offerings have left the cathedral, this beautiful thing turns up at the front doors to receive the remains and statue of Saint Agata. At the back you can see one of the devotees lighting these long, tall candles. These are typical of the celebrations and can be bought throughout the main streets around this time. The cittadini of Catania buy them and pass them to the float (if you can call it a float!) There are so many given that many of them are not even lit and simply piled up, later to be saved for next year.

The crowd went crazy when she left the cathedral at about 7:45. You can see above that most of them were wearing the typical white gown and black cap and waving white gloves in the air as they cheered and sang the hymn for Agata and Catania.

Afterwards we wandered through the streets, which suddenly resembled Disneyland. We had no time for that though and went straight home to sleep for a few hours.

The people in this bar were waiting for half an hour for the arancini whilst they cooked! Crazy! When they finally came out of the frier, the crowd went mad.

In case you were wondering why the streets are covered in sawdust, these guys below have the answer. By evening, they run up the streets with these giant candles lit upon their backs. The sawdust is to prevent the wax from coating the roads and making the streets dangerous after the festivities.

Here you can see the men preparing the roads. We had a brilliant view from our balcony yesterday evening and hopefully I will get those photos up soon in Viva Sant'Agata part 2! Ciao for now!