The Festival of San Silvestro
The faithful Ddrara returning to the old town of Troina with laurel branches

The Festival of San Silvestro

Steven Lee Gilbert

Troina, the town in which we’ve chosen to settle in Sicily, is a very ancient city and was throughout both Greek and Roman times an important military stronghold due its geographical status, which, as you can see, offers commanding views in every direction, from Mount Etna to the Nebrodi Mountains and beyond.

With history comes tradition and one particular rite started centuries ago honors the town’s Patron Saint, San Silvestro. It features two ancient pilgrimages, one on foot and the other on horseback, both departing the town after evening mass and traveling along these ancient mountain paths until the next morning when they reach the small sacred wood in the heart of the mountains.

There, the following day, they are summoned by the sound of drums—and of course the lure of food and wine and ancient, traditional song—to gather branches of laurel, which is, according to legend, a tree of wonderous health and great symbol of glory, and offering protection from all kinds of evil.

The laurel is then arranged in these splendid, elaborate and sometimes massive decorations on the backs of their horses for their return to the village where they’re welcomed by other townspeople and offered together as a sign of the community’s faith and commitment to the saint.

The Festival of San Silvestro is just one of the many enchanting pieces of tradition we’re learning about as we conduct our own special kind of pilgrimage into the heart of Sicily.

Click below to watch a video clip of this story.

Singers calling out to the riders