The Feast of Saint Efisio in Cagliari
In late May 1652 the plague came to Sardinia, on a ship that set sail from Catalonia and arrived in Alghero. The outbreak was so virulent to infect all the northern island in a couple of weeks, heading then south leaving a terrible trail of death and desolation.
Already on July 11th the city council of Cagliari gathered to discuss appropriate preventive measures, as well as ask for the grace to the saints intercessors against diseases, Efisio, Rocco and Sebastiano.
The last two saints were usually prayed by all church with that purpose, but the special devotion to Saint Efisio, a militar commander martyred and buried in Nora (near Pula) during the ancient roman persecutions, was born just in that occasion. In his passio (the account of the saint's martyrdom), it's said that the people of Cagliari would have got any grace for body and soul, if they went on pilgrimage to his tomb.
Just to encourage this practice, on April 27th 1654 the Pope Innocent X gave several indulgences to whoever decided to went to pilgrimage to Nora on his patron day, May 3rd , the day Ephysius decided to embrace the christian faith. His martyrdom instead occurs on January 15th. Ephysius dal paganesimo al cristianesimo. Il ricordo del suo martirio ricorre invece il 15 gennaio.
A notarial act of April 14th 1657 (maybe even the year before) shows that a group of pilgrims went in procession from Cagliari to Nora, escorted by soldiers on horse, as a protection against the threat of pirate assaults in the coastal zones.
Unfortunately on November 1655, despite the cordon sanitaire and the many preventive measures taken, the outbreak started to claim more and more victims, even between the walls of Cagliari. On March 4th 1656 the city council gathered again, they made a new solem vow to the saint, so that god by his intercession would free the city from the plague: every year 100 scudi (old italian coins), would have been taken from the town's treasury, to be spent to organize a huge feast for the martyred warrior.
In October the plague ceased and in the cathedral the solemn te deum (a thanksgiving hymn) was chanted. The next year for the first time the huge 50 km procession was officially made, starting from Cagliari on May 1st and arriving in Nora on May 3rd, culminating with the celebration of the high mass on the saint's tomb. The next day, the statue of the saint was placed on a cart pulled by cattle and started the return to Cagliari, followed by walking pilgrims, the members of the Archconfraternity and the banner. Once the procession was completed, the vow was officially proclaimed fulfilled. The rite has always been performed since 1967 to date, with really few exceptions due to particular historical junctures.
The departure of the statue and its return are accompanied by hundreds of people from all parts of Sardinia, all dressed in their traditional gala costumes, forming an extraordinary and rich folk setting that reiterates, the love and devotion of sardinians for this saint. In 1794 Pope Pius VI proclaimed Efisio Sardae Patronus Insulae (Patron and the Island Of Sardinia), for averting an attempted invasion of the island by french troops, the previous year.