Festival of the Translation of the Relics
May 7, 8, and 9
A great religious folk festival, held every year in Bari, commemorates the May 9th, 1087, arrival of St. Nicholas’ bones (the Translation of the Relics from Myra to Bari). Many thousands of people from all over Apulia come for the festivities which begin on the morning of May 7th. Priests go on a boat with an icon-type painting of St. Nicholas to spend the day at sea. The public square and other areas are turned into a festive fairyland lit by large beautiful lacy screens.
When the painting returns, the Corteo Storico, a great procession of people in 11th century costume, follows it from the port of San Giorgio, winding along the roads to the square in front of the Basilica di San Nicola. With floats and dramatic enactment, the parade effectively re-tells St. Nicholas entire story.
The next morning, on the 8th, crowds gather at the breakwater for a large outdoor Eucharist celebrated by the Archbishop of Bari. A larger-than-life colorful St. Nicholas statue from the basilica is brought in procession and put in place next to the altar for the two-hour service.
After the mass the statue embarks on a day-long sea voyage. A flotilla with dozens of boats forms a festive escort. In the evening the harbor is lined with thousands of people waiting to greet the statue’s return. Twelve costumed men carry the impressive figure on their shoulders, accompanied by bearers with flower poles and torches.
The statue’s fabric garments sway with the movement, making it look as if San Nicola is walking above the people. A festive parade with banners of Nicola, bands, torches, and people with devotional items follows the statue back into the town. Cheers follow the saint’s progress as he is brought to stand before the portico of the cathedral in the illuminated public square. Pilgrims will visit the statue there for several days before it returns to its place in the basilica.
The central part of the celebration is the evening of May 9th. The basilica is filled-to-overflowing for another mass, again celebrated by the Archbishop of Bari. Invited ecumenical guests, particularly Orthodox, are present. As the Eucharist concludes, the altar party, choir, and invited guests seated in the front rows, rapidly go down to the crypt which holds St. Nicholas’ tomb. The choir chants as the rector crawls into an opening at the front of the tomb and brings out the manna, a liquid which has always accumulated around the relics.
A great exclamation rises as the vessel is elevated. With acclamation the vessel is borne up into the church where the faithful queue to venerate the manna. Outside the celebration continues with fireworks and merrymaking on into the night.
More in another section
Photos of the Corteo Storico (historical procession)
Photos: St Nicholas Society/JMR and C Myers, St Nicholas Center, unless otherwise noted.