The Festival of San Salvatore, Cefalù

The island of Sicily is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Italy, particularly during the summer. Just off the Southern Italy mainland, Sicily is blessed with stretches of golden sands and beautiful weather to match. While this makes the island perfect for sun seekers, Sicily is also a region full of Italian culture to discover, with historic cities and ancient artefacts dotted across the region.

Many of the prominent locations in Sicily are steeped in traditions that are highlighted during the religious festivals held throughout the year. The Festival of San Salvatore, in the small city of Cefalù, is an excellent example of this festival tradition that is not to be missed during your stay in the area!

What is the Festival of San Salvatore?

The Festival of San Salvatore is an annual religious celebration held every August in the Sicilian city of Cefalù, located along the north coast near many of our holiday villas in Sicily. Taking place over multiple days, the community comes alive with a range of events including a huge feast celebrating their patron saint, San Salvatore.

The History of San Salvatore

Also known as the Saviour of the Transfiguration, San Salvatore is another widely used name referring to Jesus Christ. The history of this festival is closely linked to the Duomo di Cefalù, a beautiful cathedral built across the 1100 and 1200s, during the Norman era of Sicily. The Duomo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and much of the festivities surround this building in the heart of the city.

A particular focus for the religious side of the festivities is placed on the Christ Pantocrator, an image of Jesus which is the Duomo’s centrepiece. This specific image is widely known for its eastern connotations – it is much more frequent in Judaism than in Roman Catholicism – which serves as a note to the region’s distinctly Arabic heritage. The festival is opened, usually on 2nd August, by the raising of a flag with this image, which remains above the cathedral until the end of the festivities.

Inside the Duomo in Cefalù, featuring an image of the Christ Pantocrator

Visiting Cefalù during the Festival of San Salvatore

The Festival is one of the town’s most popular events, held during the first week of August, and brings in huge crowds, especially on the final day. Mixing sacred worship with good old-fashioned fun for all ages, there are a host of different events that take place during the festival every year.

San Salvatore is heralded during the Festival in a grand procession, where crowds line the streets, and the church bells ring out proudly in his honour. Alongside the traditional and solemn religious processions that take place to remember the patron saint, the festival adds plenty of lively events, including concerts, firework displays and food stalls. A favourite dish associated with the festival is Pasta a Taianu, which is made with meat, tomatoes, aubergines and pecorino cheese and is not to be missed!

The largest and most popular event, however, takes place on the final day. Crowds pile into the town’s harbour to watch the unique ‘ntinna a mari’ (sea antenna) competition. This traditional event involves a slick pole or beam sticking out horizontally from the edge of the pier, with a flag hanging at its end that challengers must attempt to grab. Several brave people, often local sailors, take part in this test of balance, doing their best to reach the flag but often slipping into the crisp waters below.

Buildings on the coast of Cefalù, Sicily

Sicily is a beautiful region of Italy that is full of unique cultures and traditions to discover. Cefalù is a stunning seaside location that embodies much of the island’s best features, including beautiful architecture, open streets and crisp blue seas. The Festival of San Salvatore may be a particular highlight, but the city is a great place to visit outside of these events, as are many great locations across the northern coast. If you would like to know more about visiting the island, why not read our guide to summer in Sicily?