When sailors from Bari, our hometown, saved the relics of Saint Nicholas from his resting place in Muslim controlled Myra in 1087, they began a tradition which, in 2015, celebrates its 928th anniversary: the “Festa di San Nicola”.
Each year, thousands of pilgrims come to Bari from all over the world to give thanks and worship at the tomb of San Nicola. The busiest time of the year, however, are the first 10 days of May, when the “Festa di San Nicola” takes place. The old town center around the Basilica di San Nicola is decked out in colorful lights and a palpable sense of excitement courses through the streets.
The Festa begins in earnest on 7th May (though many of us have already been partying for some days!) with a stirring historical procession through the streets of Bari Vecchia(old town). A large icon of the Saint is accompanied by around 500 specially costumed attendants and when the Saint is returned to his Basilica for the night, the bells ring out and the celebrations really burst into life.
The following day, a large statue of the Saint is taken out to sea, accompanied by a flotilla of colourfully festooned boats. Crowds of well-wishers wait on dry land for his return in the evening, an event that symbolizes the arrival of his relics in Bari over 920 years ago. After a solemn welcome from the city’s religious and civic dignitaries, the statue is paraded through the streets back to the Basilica.
9th May, the final day of the core festivities, is given over to religious services celebrating the anniversary of San Nicola’s arrival in Bari. After the last Mass is said, thousands of revelers take to the streets and the skies above become a blank canvas for the polychromatic splendor and the thunderous rumble of a thousand and one fireworks… Remember, don’t miss the chance of trying the typical sandwich with grilled octopus!
Photo: Enrico Fabi