Feasts and Traditions

San Calogero: The beloved
black Saint of Agrigento

Every year in July hundreds of barefoot devotees undertake the pilgrimage to the sanctuary, bearing loaves of bread representing organs or body parts healed thanks to the intercession of the black Saint. The mysterious Saint, fondly called ‘the venerable old man’, seems to have arrived in Sicily many centuries ago. ‘Calogero’ derives from the Greek “kalos-gheros”, literally translated as “good-old”, although the Greek term also embraces fysical beauty and moral integrity. It appears that Calogero was a name generally given to hermits and monks living in spiritual retreat on the outskirts of society. According to tradition and rare historical references, it appears that Calogero was born in the 5th century a.D. in Calcedonia, not far from Constantinople, capital of the eastern Roman Empire. In that period the western Roman Empire was in decline due to recurring barbarian invasions. Agriculture and commerce were compromised and the quality of life was rapidly deteriorating: the population was taunted by famine and frequent epidemics. It is not clear whether Calogero arrived to releive the population from their suffering or whether he had fled from internal conflicts which were rocking the Orthodox Church at the time, but is it sure that he travelled all around the island of Sicily visiting many towns, amongst which Naro and Sciacca.

On his way he dwelled in isolated caves, visiting the local population in order to dispense the sacraments and cure the ill with miraculous ointments and medical remedies. He also collected food for the poor: nowadays in Agrigento his generosity is still evoked by offering the Saint countless breadrolls which are destined to be distributed to the needy. Calogero is undoubtedly much loved all along the southern coast of Sicily. Some sustain that historically Calogero was not a single man but that there were several monks of the same order and hence dressed in the same manner dispensing their charity amongst the poor.  This theory is quite plausible considering that Calogero was a name generally attributed to all hermits and it would also explain the large area which he apparently covered and the many caves which he is said to have inhabited. Apparently the sanctuary of San Calogero situated in the centre of Agrigento was built on the site of one of these cave-dwellings. Each year, for eight days between the first and second sunday of July, Agrigento is aroused and enfervoured by the festivities in honour of its beloved wise old saint, black Calogero.

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