On Sunday I took a trip out of town that took me to the Sicilian inland, in particular to Valguarnera Caropepe and Enna. In this article I will focus only on Valguarnera Caropepe and its celebrations for the feast of St. Joseph.
The village has very ancient origins, although the first historical records date back to 1246. The ancient origins, dating back to the Mesolithic, are visible above all in the surroundings of the village, where there are several finds proving the presence of ancient villages and burials of prehistoric times.
It was above all from the Middle Ages that Valguarnera began to enjoy a certain importance, when the feud was transformed into a village and its territory got bigger and bigger. This attracted many families from all over Sicily to move towards the territories of Valguarnera, causing a strong demographic increase. This population growth was certainly favoured by the greater number of cultivable lands, but also by the possibility of working in the nearby sulfur deposits. The population continued to grow until the early twentieth century, when the village came to count about 18 thousand inhabitants. Today Valguarnera Caropepe has about 8 thousand inhabitants.
A village rich in history, Valguarnera Caropepe offers its visitors several things to see: from the Castle of the Princes of Valguarnera, to the various churches including the one of St. Joseph, divided into three naves and decorated with frescoes.
The traditions of the feast of St. Joseph in Valguarnera Caropepe
Valguarnera Caropepe is famous in Sicily for its celebrations in honor of St. Joseph, although its patron saint is St Christopher.
The tables of St. Joseph
The most particular tradition of these celebrations is undoubtedly that of the tables of St. Joseph. Their preparation begins 10-15 days before the actual feast and they are a moment of aggregation for the community of the faithful. It is a table laden with food given to Saint Joseph as a votive offering, to thank him for the graces received. According to this tradition, in fact, St. Joseph is the protector of families and bringer of graces.
The table on which the food offered to the saint will be placed is about 3 metres long and shaped like a ladder, with 4-5 steps. Both the table at the base and the steps are covered with embroidered linen tablecloths. Dishes of the local culinary tradition are offered to St. Joseph, especially the ones related to this festivity. For example, honey pasta, fried vegetables, vegetable omelettes, honey pignolata, cannoli, sfince di San Giuseppe, cassatelle, torrone, confetti are offered.
The bread is the great protagonist of the tables of St. Joseph. It is prepared by local bakers and shaped in the form of carpenter’s tools, recalling the job of St. Joseph. The bread is made with durum wheat flour, brushed with egg and finished with poppy seeds, before being baked. The forms of bread are placed on the tables together with the other dishes. Among them you also see oranges, lettuces, fennel and celery as a decoration, giving a beautiful chromatic effect.
The Holy Family
Every year three inhabitants of the village are chosen to represent the Holy Family. Saint Joseph is personified by a man with a long beard, who wears a blue tunic and a brown cloak and carries in his hand a stick with a white lily, a symbol of purity. Mary is chosen among the girls of the town and wears a burgundy dress, an embroidered cape and a silver crown, while holding a prayer book. Baby Jesus, on the other hand, wears a blue tunic and has a small halo on his head.
After the celebration of the Mass, the Holy Family is accompanied by the band and the faithful in procession through the streets of the village, to the houses where they have been invited for the rite of the Azena (the Supper).
The rite of the “azena”
Linked to the tradition of tables, this is one of the main rites of the feast of Saint Joseph in Valguarnera Caropepe. The Holy Family consumes the food offered on the tables. This rite refers to two events narrated in the Holy Scriptures, in particular when Joseph and Mary were denied a refuge for the childbirth and when they were forced to live as illegal immigrants in Egypt. The offer of this dinner is a way for the faithful to welcome the Holy Family in the name of Christian charity.
At the end of the tour of the village, the Holy Family is accompanied by the procession and by the band to the Church of St. Joseph, where they can consume the food of the main table set up there.
The ‘mbraculi (miracles)
They consist in candles and wheat offered by devotees to Saint Joseph for the graces received. Candles are decorated with colourful paper flowers and often carried barefoot among the streets of the village. Wheat, on the other hand, is transported inside saddlebags placed on the backs of adorned horses. They are accompanied by the band along the slope that leads to the Church of St. Joseph, playing the Chichirichi march.
Feast of St. Joseph in Valguarnera Caropepe: the evening procession
The feast of Saint Joseph in Valguarnera Caropepe doesn’t take place just in the morning. In fact, after the evening Mass another procession begins, bringing the Fercolo del Santo (built in the nineteenth century) around the main streets of the village, accompanied by the band and the authorities of the village. The Feast of St. Joseph is also celebrated on August 19th. This rite was introduced in the last century, when many citizens emigrated abroad. In this way, when they returned to Valguarnera for the summer holidays, they could celebrate the Saint so dear to the village.
These are the traditions linked to the feast of Saint Joseph in Valguarnera Caropepe. It could be an idea to see something unique, if you are in Sicily in mid-March.