Religious Fest in Ischia

Unmissable moments to enjoy the island atmosphere

feste religiose sull'isola d'ischia

In Ischia, there are numerous churches, sacred celebrations, rituals, and expressions of devotion by the people. The Ischian people cherish the Catholic tradition of the island and have always protected the historical memories that characterize Ischia, including those of a religious nature.

Every municipality, and almost every village, has its patron saint, and to this day, Ischian families often give their newborns the name of the saint to whom they are devoted.

Then, there are some saints who are particularly revered. Among them are the two patrons of the island: • San Giovan Giuseppe della Croce, a friar born in Ischia in the 17th century, the patron saint of the municipality of Ischia and co-patron of the island; • Santa Restituta, a Paleochristian martyr, the patron saint of Lacco Ameno and co-patron of Ischia.

The celebrations in honor of these two patron saints are events that retain the charm of religious festivals of the past.

The commemoration dedicated to San Giovanni Giuseppe della Croce falls on the first Sunday of September, and the festivities in the streets of the village of Ischia Ponte last for four days.

Eleven days of solemn celebrations are dedicated to Santa Restituta, which takes place from 8th to 18th May in Lacco Ameno. The culmination falls on 17th May, the day of the Saint’s celebration, when a suggestive procession is also organized.

In addition to the two main religious festivals, those in honor of: • San Vito, celebrated in June in Forio and lasting four days, which alternate religious moments of homage to the Saint with recreational and playful moments, such as the traditional fair or band performances; • Sant’Anna in Ischia, held in July, which includes a suggestive race between boats decorated in such a spectacular way as to become real artistic installations.

The religious festivals in Ischia are moments not to be missed for the tourist who wants to fully experience the island atmosphere and immerse themselves in an exciting and deeply felt context by the locals.

SANT’ANNA CELEBRATION IN ISCHIA

Santa Anna is celebrated on July 26th, when residents and tourists from all over the island, nearby Naples, and beyond gather in the narrow streets of the village of Ischia Ponte to attend the celebrations in honor of the Saint. On this occasion, there is a very suggestive mix of religious and secular festivities. In fact, during the celebrations for the feast of Santa Anna, there is a spectacular competition between “rafts”, which parade in front of thousands of people crowded on the rocks around the bay of Cartromana and on many boats. The race aims to choose the most original and evocative boat of the Saint.

The idea of this festival was born in the 1930s when some fishermen from Mandra, a beach at the entrance of Ischia Ponte, wanted to decorate the boats with which, on the day dedicated to Santa Anna, the patron saint of parturient women, they went to pray together with their families at the church dedicated to her.

In fact, the chapel of Santa Anna is located right in front of the rocks of the bay of Cartaromana (which are therefore called the rocks of S. Anna). The faithful therefore reached this special place by sea, not without having provided themselves with typical dishes of the island, such as eggplant parmigiana and rabbit Ischitan-style, with which they feasted after prayers.

In a short time, the other fishermen also adorned their gozzo, first with vegetable stems and garlands, then with real sets, and the race was formalized. The boats in competition gradually became larger, until they turned into real stages on the water, with sets and actors. The chosen themes generally draw inspiration from local traditions and history, but over time, free space has been left for any form of creativity.

At the beginning, the competition was reserved for the neighborhoods of the Ischia municipality only, but after the Second World War, the other municipalities of the island were involved and, in some editions, even the other islands of the Gulf of Naples.

The ancient custom of the farmers to celebrate S. Anna, lighting bonfires on the heights, visible from the bay of Cartaromana, from Epomeo to the hills of Campagnano, has found its modern evolution in fireworks, always present as a corollary of the feast.

Finally, it is worth mentioning the scenic “fire” of the Aragonese Castle, which simulates, in a play of lights and smoke, a never happened assault of the Saracens on the Castle itself. In fact, even if the represented assault has no historical basis, the Castle still protected the population of Ischia from external dangers for centuries.

SAN VITO FESTIVAL IN FORIO D’ISCHIA

festa di san vito d'ischia

The San Vito Festival, which falls in mid-June, is highly celebrated by the residents of Forio d’Ischia, who annually carry the beautiful statue in procession through the streets of the municipality.

The sculpture of San Vito is made of copper and silver and was designed by the sculptor Giuseppe Sanmartino (also author of the Veiled Christ in the San Severo Chapel in Naples) and cast by two Neapolitan goldsmiths in 1787 (although the Saint’s cult is much older). The gilding of the statue was even financed through a tax on all wine carafes sold in taverns.

Vito was a young Christian, possibly of Sicilian origin, who was martyred during the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian for refusing to renounce his faith. The statue of San Vito portrays him as a boy holding the palm of martyrdom; beside him are a dog and a lion, traditionally associated with this Saint, while the bunch of grapes in his hands specifically links him to the island.

The dog is a symbol that indicates the Saint’s protection against neurological diseases, such as the one popularly called “Saint Vitus’s Dance.” It is said that San Vito cured the emperor Diocletian’s son of the disease (epilepsy).

The lion presumably recalls one of the martyrs that San Vito suffered: he was given to the lions, but they spared him by remaining gentle.

Let’s move on to the bunch of grapes: in the 19th century, Ischia’s vineyards were severely affected by serious attacks of cryptogam, a fungus that destroyed the plants. The economy of the whole island, and especially of Forio (since in this area, the surface cultivated with vines was quite extensive), was in serious crisis.

It is natural that the farmers and their families asked for help from the patron saint: the legend says that a boat loaded with sulfur, the remedy that saved the Ischian vineyards, was stopped off the coast of Forio precisely by San Vito, who paid for the life-saving substance with a ring that belonged to his statue. In reality, the sulfur did arrive by sea, but it was brought by the three Sanfilippo brothers from the Aeolian Islands (where sulfur is abundant), and they were the ones who made it known to the desperate Ischian vine growers.

However, the suggestive story of the help given by San Vito to his followers is still alive in Forio families, to the point that during the festival, the statue is adorned with freshly harvested grape clusters, still unripe since it is June, but sprayed with sulfur, as is still used in the island’s vineyards.

SANTA RESTITUTA FESTIVAL IN LACCO AMENO, ISCHIA

festa di santa restituta

The Santa Restituta Festival, the patron saint of the diocese of Ischia, is celebrated on May 16th, 17th, and 18th in Lacco Ameno. During this time of year, thousands of faithful and visitors come here to participate in the celebrations in honor of Santa Restituta.

At the heart of Lacco Ameno, in the square of the same name, stands the sanctuary of Santa Restituta. The church has a rectangular plan with a single nave. On the sides, there are ten small chapels enriched with marble altars with paintings and wooden statues. The facade of the church is of neoclassical origin, and on the right side stands the bell tower (today the municipal offices are located in the tower). Near the church of Santa Restituta, there is an archaeological museum worth visiting.

STORY OF SANTA RESTITUTA In 304 AD, during a period of fierce persecution against Christians unleashed by the emperor Diocletian, the very young Restituta, along with many fellow believers, was captured in the African town of Biserta (located in present-day Tunisia) and was tortured for refusing to renounce her Christian faith.

The punishments she endured were atrocious: she was nailed to the feet, hung by her own hair, whipped, and finally placed on a boat, which, soaked in resin and pitch, was taken out to sea and set ablaze while Restituta was still alive. According to legend, the fire spread to the executioners’ boat and left the young girl unharmed, who died from her wounds. Her body, kept by an angel, arrived intact from Africa to the beach of Lacco Ameno.

Lucina, a local woman with Christian faith, buried the body of young Restituta, in whose name her story “she who was restored” is enclosed. From that moment, an indissoluble and profound bond was born between this land and Santa Restituta.

This is the legend of Santa Restituta. In reality, the cult began in the late fifth century when bishops and believers fleeing from North Africa due to the persecution of the Vandal king Genseric, who had occupied the region and intended to annihilate Catholicism, which was of Arian faith. In the places where the exiles found refuge (Lacco Ameno, Naples, Cagliari, Palermo, and Corsica), devotion to the African martyr, Santa Restituta, was born. During the festival days, visitors can participate in the dramatization of the martyrdom, which ranges from the trial phase against all Christian believers to the arrival of the body of young Restituta on the island.

This very suggestive staging is performed every year on the beach of S. Montano in Lacco Ameno at sunset. Here, the ritual of dressing the statue of Santa Restituta also takes place, which is then lifted onto a golden canopy during the days dedicated to her celebration and carried in a procession by land and sea around the island.

Inside the church, there is a statue of Santa Restituta dating back to the eighteenth century. During the patronal feast days, devotees donate gold and silver as a sign of gratitude for the graces received, “dressing” the statue of the saint. The ceremony is public.

SAINT JOHN JOSEPH OF THE CROSS FESTIVAL IN ISCHIA

festa di san giovanni d'ischia

The feast of Saint John Joseph of the Cross is a significant celebration on the island of Ischia and has two dates: the religious one falls on March 5, the day of the saint’s death, while the public festivities occur on the first Sunday of September. The festival is held in Ischia Ponte, on the eastern side of the island.

STORY OF SAINT JOHN JOSEPH OF THE CROSS

Carlo Gaetano Calosirto was born on August 15, 1654, the third of eight children. His family was wealthy and lived in the Castle, but his mother went into labor while in the village and gave birth in a modest house with steep stairs that is still visitable today, typical of Ischia Ponte.

He studied at the convent of the Augustinian Fathers and at 15 years old, he took the vows, joining the Franciscans of the order promoted by Saint Peter of Alcantara, a Spanish saint, and thus they were called Alcantarini. Carlo Gaetano Calosirto promoted a rigorous penitential life to restore the poverty of early Franciscanism and chose the name John Joseph of the Cross.

At 20 years old, the Order sent him and some fellow friars to establish a new convent in Piedimonte d’Alife, and soon John Joseph became the Guardian Father. His abilities and high spirituality made him a prominent figure of Neapolitan religiosity during the late Counter-Reformation period. He was appointed to oversee 70 monasteries, and when there was a split within the Order between the Spanish and Italian factions, John Joseph was unanimously elected as the first Provincial by the Italian Alcantarini. In this role, he intervened in the areas of reforming customs, ecclesiastical discipline, and rule observance.

After two years, he asked to leave the position to dedicate himself to the masses of destitute and impoverished people overflowing in Naples. He was a spiritual guide to many Neapolitan nobles, including Alfonso Maria de’ Liguori, who also became a saint, and the philosopher Gian Battista Vico. He was a great communicator and had undoubted charisma. His absolute poverty, which he chose to live in (he was called the “Saint of a Hundred Patches” because he wore his first habit for his entire life, which was inevitably repeatedly mended), constant corporal mortification, ecstasies, the gift of prophecy, and levitations, as well as the miracles attributed to him, including the resurrection of the Marchese Gennaro Spada, made him appear to his contemporaries as a saint already in life.

He died in the main Alcantarini convent, that of S. Lucia al Monte, in Naples, in 1734, and in 1839, he was proclaimed a saint and is the patron saint of the island (along with St. Restituta) and the municipality of Ischia. His body was kept in the convent where he worked until 2003, when Bishop Father Filippo Strofaldi managed to bring him back permanently to Ischia, where he was welcomed in the church of S. Antonio alla Mandra.

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