The story of the Feast of San Sisto of Alatri

There is a special link between the patron Saint Sisto and the city of Alatri with two different celebration days, on 11 January and on Wednesday after Easter.

San Sisto I was the 7th bishop of Rome and therefore the 7th Pope and reigned for about 10 years from 117 to 126 AD (different scholars give different dates) under the emperor Hadrian. According to a legend Pope Sixtus I (San Sisto) sent the first missionary, the bishop Pellegrino, to evangelize Gaul.

During his papacy the first divergences between the Church of Rome and the churches of the East arose regarding the feast of the Passover, which at that time was celebrated only in the East.

The story of the relationship between Alatri and San Sisto is very interesting because it seems that the Saint chose to become the patron of Alatri and to protect it.

It is said that in 1132 Count Rainolfo di Alife (in the province of Caserta) asked Pope Anacletus II to have a relic of some important saint who would help him to free his city from the terrible plague.

The pope was reluctant, but while he was in Rainulf, a beam was broken in the St. Peter’s Basilica which destroyed the altar holding the body of Pope Sixtus I. This was considered a signal and it was decided to send Sixtus I’s body as relic for the protection of Alife.

The pope granted the relics of Saint Sisto, the urn was loaded on the back of a mule who, on his way to Alife, however, disobeyed and went to Alatri and stopped in front of the cathedral.

From that day on 11 January 1132, Alatri was freed from the plague. In gratitude, a finger of the Saint was given to Alife. The legend of Alife and that of Alatri differ, in any case in the 1980s it was shown that in reality Alatri and Alife divided the body of the saint in halves while his head is held in the cathedral of Savona.

In any case, January 11th is considered an especially religious ceremony while the feast takes place on Wednesday after Easter, when a solemn procession takes place along the streets of Alatri.

This date is also linked to a miracle performed by the saint. In 1186 Alatri was besieged by the troops of Arrigo VI, son of Federico Barbarossa, and after nine days of resistance the inhabitants of Alatri went worn out in front of their Patron Saint Sisto to invoke help and protection.

The inhabitants felt strengthened and succeeded in defeating the enemy on the Wednesday after Easter which, from that day, has been declared a feast day and consecrated to the patron saint.

The first statue that is carried in procession dates back to 1584 by Egnazio Danti with hands, feet and head in silver made by a master of Perugia. The ruined wooden parts were then replaced in 1671.

In the 1950s the master Arbace Milani was commissioned to create a new body in pinewood (resistant to woodworms) keeping all the silver parts. The statue, however, turned out to be too large and difficult to carry in procession and in 1959 a new version was made which weighs 7 quintals (about 700kg) and is carried on the shoulders by 20-25 bearers of the Confraternity of San Sisto.

Guide of Alatri

Alatri sits on a hill at the foot of the Ernici mountains that separate Lazio from Abruzzo and, therefore, it […]