by Carlo Satta

"Li candaleri faran'in piazza "
cun li vetti di rasu trimurendi..." 

"The candle bearers walk down the streets 
with satin ribbons fluttering…."..."
P. Calvia

Pipers and tambourine players accompany their descent.

The candles in Sassari are identified with the "Great Feast". What are they exactly? What do they represent for the city of Sassari?
We shall seek to establish once and for all, in what year and why they originated. To establish their genesis, it will be easier to penetrate the heart of the people of Sassari and really understand what they mean to the inhabitants who were so cruelly stricken by natural calamities in the distant 1582. A vow was made to Our Lady in August of that year, in thanks for having ended the Plague which took so many lives of the Sassaresi; some historians report 16,000, others up to 22,000.

In truth, it needs to stress that this plague was not the last, as others followed, and the one which determined the Vow of the Sassaresi, had been preceeded by still others again, which took the lives of thousands of citizens.

Builders bearers

Shoemaker Candle bearers

They were bad times. On one side, the unhygienic sanitary conditions, on the other - the lack of attention given to prevention. In short, in those unhappy days there were open sewers running every which way. It is easily understandable how every contagious disease must have spread with lightning speed. Another note of interest: those who died of plague were buried in the church chapels. Due to the imperfect joints in the tombs, after every new burial, these emanated intolerable miasmata to the congregation, gathered to beg God to free them of this scourge. (*Frate Angius).

At this point, in order to comprehend better, it needs explain that in this period, Brotherhoods or Guilds flourished, which were to take the name of Gremi. These associations were affiliated by all those who practised a craft or an art. They were bound by the regulations of precise and strict Statutes, that established severe rules, governing the lives of their members.

These were the years when Sardegna suffered both under the Spanish yoke, which plundered all that was possible, together with the oppression of a thousand barons. In those terrible years of pestilence and famine, the Brotherhoods greatly assisted the poorer members, working as a Society of Mutual Aid, distributing sums of money and providing burial for members who had died and keeping open the member's place of work.

Affiliate gremio Ortolani in Spanish costume 

Obriere (has the candle bearing consignment for that descent)

Unfortunately, only a brief acknowledgment is allowed here, of those little masterpieces of wisdom that were the Statutes of the Brotherhoods.

However, let us not close the door on an eventual exclusive dealing of the Statutes.

The Candle Bearers popular feast takes place in Sassari on the 14th August. The descent or "FARADDA" continues annually on this date, for centuries.

This descent of the candles, fulfills the Vow made by the Sassaresi to Our Lady of Mid August, during the terrible pestilence in the city in 1582.

Because of the gravity of the plague and the deep mourning it provoked in the city, the Sassaresi decided to light candles to the Madonna of Mid August, begging Her intervention to bring an end to the horrible disease. The Guilds decided that each candle should weigh 100 lbs, equal to 40 kilos. Perhaps, due to the great cost of the wax, the Brotherhoods opted for the actual candles in wood, taking the idea from similar ones introduced to the city by the Pisans in 1236. Other sources affirm it was the Spanish who spread the use. A note of curiosity is that similar candles exist in Nulvi, Ozieri and Ploaghe.

That dreadful pestilence was brought to the city by a Gesuit monk who, no sooner had he learnt that the Plague had broken out in Alghero, fled Alghero and took refuge in Sassari, thus spreading the plague which provoked the deaths cited above and inducing the Sassaresi to make a Vow to the Madonna of Mid August. They were indeed frightening years: the means of fighting the plague - empirical, and those unfortunate enough to be sticken, usually died with atrocious suffering.

Originally, as we have seen, the candles were waxen. Later however, when the Vow was renewed for other pestilences which struck the city, the wax candles were substituted by the present wooden candles, weighing far more than the 40 kilos of wax. Today, the oldest of the candles weigh several hundred kilograms and are carried on the men's shoulders, mostly volunteers, who by this enormous effort, wish to fulfill the Vow for mercies received. There are eight bearers and they run and dance up and down the Corso Vittorio Emanuele, receiving loud applause from the numerous spectators bordering the street. It is calculated that in 1999, over 130,000 people, between Sassaresi and tourists from all around, attended the "FARADDA" in the descent at the end of the millennium.

The members of certain Gremi, dress in Spanish costume and carry a sword; other Gremi members wear a black tail-coat with a waistcoat in the colour of the banner that enthrones the candel and depicts the Patron Saint. Actually, there are nine bearers participating in the "FARADDA"; these are the names and the order in which they took part in the procession of 1999:
Stone Masons, Wayfarers, Farmers, Carpenters, Market Gardeners, Shoemakers and Bricklayers. During the years ending with an odd number, the third last position is taken by Tailors and the last place but not the least important, by Housekeepers - who, at the end of the procession are the first to enter the church of St.Mary of Bethlehem, flanked by all the other bearers.

One must remember that the Feast of the Candles, called "FESTHA MANNA", the Great Feast, is the real and true feast of the Sassaresi: the one with which they all identify. They come from far and wide for this occasion, from wherever their work has taken them. Each year, from among the Sassaresi who have been away for the longest period, to the one who counts the most years, is offered a golden candel and a silver candel to he who takes second place.

To conclude, one might say that the nine candles (candelieri), are the real symbol of the city, that, in which every "true" Sassarese identifies himself.

Translated by Helen Finlayson

Isola Sarda © 1997-2005 - Associazione Culturale Ciberterra - Responsabile: Giorgio Plazzotta
I contenuti appartengono ai rispettivi autori - Tutti i diritti riservati
The contents belong to the respective authors - All rights reserved