Walking one behind the other through the streets of the city, announced by drum rolls, a crowd of devotes returns from a pilgrimage to the Nebrodi mountains, carrying long wooden stick decorated with laurel branches, flowers, dolls, and colourful ribbons. On the penultimate Sunday of May, the town of Troina, in the province of Enna, celebrates the “Festa de Ramara”. Young and old devotees – strictly men – profess their (own or inherited) vow, by travelling a sacred journey in honour of the patron Saint Sylvester, to whom they will offer branches of laurel.
The journey actually begins a few days earlier. Pilgrims leave Troina at dask, on Thursday. They walk into the forests in the heart of the Nebrodi mountains, where they will collect the plant. On Sunday morning, pilgrims come back to the city to attend Mass, bless the laurel, and pay homage to the Saint’s tomb in the church dedicated to him.
The following week, the city celebrates another important votive pilgrimage: the Ddarata. This time the protagonists are the ddarara, men riding horses and mules sumptuously harnessed and loaded with laurels. On the night of Friday, riders leave from the Church of Saint Sylvester to reach the woods where they will offer their journey to the Patron Saint. On Sunday, hundreds of pilgrims on horseback proceed along the streets of the city in a colourful and impressive parade.
Myth and ritual mix together into new forms of cult
The pagan contribution in this feast is remarkable. The spring season is linked to the rebirth of nature. Some signs, such as the images of the Saint and the dolls, evoke the fertility of soil. The shots represent the departure of the evil spirits. The wood represents a place of meditation and rest, where pilgrims can leave behind their daily worries, but also a place full of dangers and superhuman beings: for the ramara and ddarara it represents adventure, mystery. And it’s just here where the laurel is collected, as a symbol of strength and royalty.
Saint Sylvester is celebrate at the table: “vastedda co sammucu”
Who comes here for the Feast, cannot miss to taste the “vastedda co sammucu”, a very high-calorie focaccia!
Two layers of dough filled with fresh local cheese (tuma), salami and fried bacon, thoroughly sprinkled with white and fragrant elderflowers. The thickness does not exceed 7 centimetres. Although the “vastedda” is known all around the island, it is a typical product of Troina, and no one is able to make it to perfection, even those living in the neighbouring towns.
The secret of this delicacy lies in the accuracy of the doses and the perfect processing of the dough, vigorously worked by the skilled hands of the housewives. A careful baking in a wood-fired oven completes this exquisite recipe.