The Feast Day of Sant’Efisio, Sardinia’s most important festival, has been held in Cagliari on May 1 since 1656. This is not simply a local festival but it’s the Sardinian “May Day”, which sees people from all over the island dressed up with their finest traditional costumes, knights riding horses, and huge decorated floats driven by gigantic oxen, all gathering in Cagliari to express their devotion and faith to Sant’ Efisio, legendary Christian Martyr.
Hundreds of pilgrims and devoted people follow the colorful parade from Cagliari to Nora, walking for 32 kilometers. They spend the night in Villa d’Orri in the countryside outside Cagliari, and arrive in Nora on May 2. The celebrations continue in the bay of Nora, near the church that was built on the site where the saint was beheaded by the Romans. On May 3, there is a beautiful sea procession, live traditional music and folk dances until late at night. The festival ends in Cagliari on the night of May 4, when the statue of the Saint is taken back to his little church, the Church of Sant’Efisio, by a smal group of pilgrims and the religious brotherhoods that hold lit candles along the way.
Sant’Efisio from Elia, Asia Minor, was martyred in Nora by the Romans. He is not just one of many Christian martyrs, but he is, for the Sardinians, the Glorious Saint and hero who has always helped and protected the island from plagues, and even stopped wars, when he was invoked. According to tradition, Sant’Efisio freed the island from a severe pestilence in 1653 and stopped the French occupation in 1793 when a strong wind pushed their fleets out of Cagliari’s port. That’s why Sant’Efisio is so beloved and is celebrated with the parade to perform a vow and invoke him by singing religious songs, asking for the protection of the island.
This is a very colorful parade, like a living fresco, where all the Sardinian traditions are displayed – costumes, jewels, launeddas music and flower decorations make this feast day an unforgettable spiritual experience. You should not miss it!