Cagliari pays homage to its Warrior Saint

more than a year ago

Meanwhile in the Stampace quarter, inside the church of St Ephysius and in its adjoining fenced forecourt there has been much going on. The mid-morning mass has already been celebrated; the members of the Confraternity have vested in either the blue and grey monkish habits or top hats and tail coats which this year their roles require. Soon the Saint’s coach will be leaving; already the team of massive Nora-bred oxen have been backed up to the church doors. Just time, perhaps, for a quick cigarette and a visit to the loo. Being here on the big day is like being back stage on a first night!
There are horses here too, quieter mounts generally, held in readiness for the various officers and officials who will be escorting the Saint down the hill, first as far as the Town Hall in via Roma and then on to distant Nora.
When at noon (often up to an hour later) St Ephysius’s trembling glass and gold carriage is at last manoeuvred out of the little forecourt and begins its journey, with a bevy of magenta-vested clergy trudging in its wake, the guards soon assume their positions. First rides the Third Guardian bearing aloft the Confraternity’s banner. Elected annually, he rides ahead of the Alter Nos who represents the municipal authorities - hence the Italian mayoral tricolour sash, which he wears round his waist. The Alter Nos is escorted by a half-squadron of militiamen in red tunics, also on horseback. They carry sabres and blunderbusses, symbols of a more gruesome past when it had been necessary to defend the Saint’s procession from the Saracen and Barbary pirates who frequently raided the coast road from Cagliari to Nora.
The final scenes for the average visitor to the St Ephysius’s Day procession are played out over the flower-strewn stretch of via Roma, below the velvet-draped grandstand which is erected in front of the Town Hall. Here the Prefect, the Mayor, the Archbishop and their guests have sat watching all morning as the riders, traccas and folk groups have clattered, swayed and strolled past. Now, as the Saint’s coach draws level, they rise and bow, the Archbishop raising a benedictory arm. The Alter Nos doffs his top hat in reply. And as these final rituals are performed, church bells ring out over the city and the ships in port or at anchor in the gulf blast their horns and hooters. St Ephysius has notched up another victory.
Time for lunch, and make sure you’ve booked! Cagliari’s restaurants and trattorias are never busier than they are today.
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