Saint of the day:
Patron Saint of Acireale; Santa Venera, Malta; Grotte, Santa Venerina, Avola; in Sicily,
invoked against volcanic eruptions, specifically those associated with Mount Etna, as well as earthquakes.
Saint Venera's Story
Veneranda, Veneria, Venerina, Parasceve) is venerated as a Christian martyr of the 2nd century. Little is known of this saint. The date of her death is traditionally given as July 26, 143 AD. In the Catalogo Sanctorum, composed by Petrus de Natalibus between 1369 and 1372, he cites in Chapter 61 the name of a virgin martyr named Veneranda. According to de Natalibus, Veneranda was born in Gaul in the 2nd century and martyred in Rome during the time of Emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161 AD).
A version of her legend states that Venera, as a girl, studied the Gospel with zeal, and left her home in Gaul to become a missionary. She travelled to Grotte, in Sicily, and preached there, and lived in a cave, near the present-day Corso Garibaldi. She became well loved amongst the local populace, and she tended to the sick. It is said that her visits would leave behind a scent of roses. She was kidnapped and taken to Acireale, and was subjected to tortures there, including being boiled in hot oil, from which she emerged even more beautiful than before. Ultimately, she was decapitated. Her body was placed in the catacomb of Santa Domitilla. According to one version of her legend, her parents were two noble Christians named Agatho (Agatone) and Hippolyte (Ippolita). When their daughter was born, the mother wanted to call her Venera, but the father, not wanting to create associations with the goddess Venus, changed his daughter's name to Veneranda, a rough Latin translation of the Greek name Paraskevi ("Friday," literally "Preparation"). Venera or Veneranda studied the Scriptures and lives of the martyrs as a child, and when her parents died, she dedicated herself to helping the poor and the sick. She distributed her wealth across Sicily. She preached on the Italian mainland as well, such as at Calabria and Campania. She was on her way to Rome when she was arrested by the Roman prefect Antonius, who attempted to force her to renounce her faith with temptations and an offer of marriage, and then by torture. Antonius had her wear a helmet of red-hot iron, had her nailed on a cross, and placed on her chest a large block of sandstone. However, Venera survived all of these tortures and converted the men who were assigned to torture her. The prefect had her placed in a hot cauldron of oil and sulfur for seven days, but Venera was unharmed. The prefect, after seeing that Venera was unharmed, asked the saint if it was magic that was keeping her unharmed. When Venera asked the prefect to approach the cauldron to determine this, he refused. Venera then scooped up some of the burning sulfur and oil in her hand, and threw it in the prefect's face, blinding him. Subsequently, Antonius freed her and converted to Christianity. Venera then converted many across Magna Graecia, and drew the attention of a ruler named Themius or Theotimus (Temio, Teotimo), who also subjects Venera to tortures, including the ones that Saint Agatha is said to have suffered –the slicing off of a breast. Venera also vanquished a dragon. Themius was also subsequently converted. Venera then traveled to Gaul, and was ultimately decapitated after once again enduring tortures under the prefect Asclepius. Before dying, Venera demolished a temple dedicated to Apollo by reciting a prayer. Her body was left exposed to the elements but remained miraculously intact.
July 22nd – 26th, Acireale (CT)
Baroque festival in honor of Santa Venera Virgin and Martyr, main patron of the City of Acireale (Catania) and of the Diocese. The Festival culminates with the “turns” of the Saint on the silver fercolo accompanied by the characteristic Candelore of the days 25 and 26 (solemnity of Santa Venera) through the streets of Acireale. The celebrations of Santa Venera start on the first Sunday of July with the exit between the streets of the city, of the four characteristic candelore. These are large and colorful engraved wooden candles, worn on the shoulders by skilled men representing the Arts and Crafts corporations (shoemakers, bakers, fishmongers, masons and craftsmen). Usually a lively orchestra accompanies the typical “annacata” dance (scotimento, shock, in Sicilian dialect) of the candelore to the rhythm of a festive musical march.
Walking through Acireale one comes across continual testimonies of Santa Venera who, according to what is said, preserved several times the town of which he was patron of Etna eruptions and limited the damage of the many earthquakes in the area, such as that of 1693 which almost destroyed completely Catania. Its baroque chapel in the Cathedral, built between 1658 and 1687, is decorated by the eighteenth century frescoes and the altarpiece by Antonio Filocamo; while in the sacristy there is the silver fercolo that parades in the procession of July 26, liturgical feast of the saint.
From the beginning of the festivities, on June 26th, we reach the climax with the Concerto delle Cantate in Santa Venera Patrona on July 24th, a unique concert that includes the execution of the most beautiful pages of the ancient Town Hall musical chapel, written in honor of Santa Venera by the most accredited Chapel Masters of the XVIII – XX centuries performed by the Music Chapel of the Venerable Royal Chapel of Santa Venera and July 26 with the Pontifical Solemn in the morning and the procession and evening sang of the hymn to the Patron Saint performed from the Musical Chapel of the Venerable Royal Chapel of Santa Venera together with some Chorales of the Diocese of Acireale.
The party ends at nightfall when an audience of people gathered in the square, greets the return of the patron saint in church and the joyous sound of the bells of the Duomo and the striking fireworks that color the sky.
For more information: www.comune.acireale.ct.it