candaleri faran'in piazza "
cun li vetti di rasu trimurendi..."
candle bearers walk down the streets
with satin ribbons fluttering…."..."
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.
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.
gremio Ortolani in Spanish costume
(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
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.
by Helen Finlayson