One of the most dramatic and fun summer festivals in Campania, the Festival of Sant’ Andrea is a wonderful chance to experience religious traditions on the Amalfi Coast.
Ever since the relics of the Apostle Sant’ Andrea arrived in the seaside town of Amalfi in the year 1208, the saint has been the protector of the town and held an important place in the heart of the Amalfitans. The deep veneration for Sant’ Andrea, or St. Andrew, can be felt most keenly during the important festival days each year to honor the saint. Right now the town of Amalfi is preparing for one of the biggest celebrations of the year, the Festival of Sant’ Andrea, which takes place every year on June 27th. This date is remembered for a miracle of Sant’ Andrea that occurred in 1544, when the people of Amalfi prayed to their saint to protect them from an attack of the feared Barbarossa pirates. When the town was saved from the attack by a sudden and terrible sea storm, the Amalfitans celebrated it as a miracle of Sant’ Andrea.
The Festival of Sant’ Andrea is deeply religious, and the celebrations begin in the beautiful Cathedral of Sant’ Andrea, or Duomo, in the heart of Amalfi. The church is filled with a beautiful light from the antique glass chandeliers that shines on the inlaid marble and gold painted details of the Baroque interior of the Duomo. A large silver statue of Sant’ Andrea surrounded by flowers and candles is displayed on the left side of the apse behind the main altar. The sounds of the traditional mass and choir songs dedicated to Sant’ Andrea fill the lofty interior of the cathedral. After the evening mass, the procession of Sant’ Andrea begins, which is an event you won’t want to miss if you’re traveling to the Amalfi Coast at the end of June.
The procession is lead by the archbishop of Amalfi and the important clergy members of the church, and is followed by the statue of Sant’ Andrea, a marching band and the people of Amalfi. The silver statue of Sant’ Andrea sits atop an elaborate gold Baroque base, and is so heavy that it requires about 16-20 men to carry it on the long procession through Amalfi. Their first challenge is to carry the statue of the saint down the 62 steps of Duomo’s grand staircase. Not an easy task! At the base of the stairs, a large crowd awaits in the Piazza Duomo.
The procession then follows the main street of Amalfi up toward the top of the town, where it stops for a benediction from the archbishop before returning back to the Piazza Duomo. People line the balconies and the narrow street in Amalfi to see the procession go by. This is one of the opportunities to see the statue very close and even hear the rattling of the silver fish held by Sant’ Andrea, one of the symbols of the saint that reflects his life as a fisherman before becoming a disciple of Jesus. Sant’ Andrea’s connection to fishing and the sea is important for the Amalfitans, because the town’s livelihood has always been closely connected to the sea.
This is why the procession of Sant’ Andrea continues through the Piazza Duomo and toward the beach in Amalfi. It follows the road to the curve above the Marina Grande beach, where it stops for a salute of horns and sirens from the boats waiting in the harbor. Next the procession continues down to the beach, where it stops at the water’s edge for a benediction of the boats and the harbor of Amalfi.
Here the men carrying the statue of Sant’ Andrea have to maneuver down a very narrow staircase to reach the beach. It’s quite a sight to see them carefully carry the statue down, following the directions of the man leading the group who calls out for each step, “Vai, vai, vai!” (“Go, go, go!”) It is traditional to touch the base or the statue of Sant’ Andrea on the festival day, and along the way during the procession you’ll see the Amalfitans reaching out and touching the statue and then kissing their hand.
After the benediction on the beach, the procession returns to the Piazza Duomo for the most dramatic moment of the festival. The piazza is absolutely packed with people waiting to see the impressive running of the statue of Sant’ Andrea up the 62 steps of the Duomo. After many minutes of preparation, everyone takes a deep breath in as the statue starts up the stairs and lets it out with a huge applause when the men arrive safely at the top. There is such a roar from the crowd that you can hardly hear the marching band playing the tradition song to celebrate!
The celebrations continue long into the night, with band concerts in the Piazza Duomo and a grand fireworks display over the harbor of Amalfi. A similar celebration occurs on November 30th, the feast day in honor of Sant’ Andrea, but the June festival has a enjoyable summer feel. If your travels bring you to the Amalfi Coast this June, come take part in the traditional Festival of Sant’ Andrea in Amalfi!
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Photo and video credits: Laura Thayer