Sardinia, Sardegna, is the large Mediterranean island situated to the west of Italy and the south of Corsica. On average about 65 miles wide and 140 miles long, it covers an area of over 9,300 square miles (24,000 square kilometres) and has a population of some 1.6 million. The capital, Cagliari, is located on the south coast of the island. Although Sardinia became part of unified Italy in 1861, the older inhabitants in particular speak Sardinian, which they distinguish as a separate language from Italian.
Historically, after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century, Sardinia was invaded by the barbarian Vandals. When they left in the following century, the island came under the rule of the Eastern Roman Empire. It successfully resisted invasions by the Goths and the Lombards and despite the raids of the Saracens at that time it began to forge its own identity, experiencing social, political and economic growth. From this age there remain many Orthodox traits to Sardinian culture.
Firstly, Sardinian Christians have a devotion to several ancient saints, St Mark the Evangelist, St John the Divine, St Sophia, St Barbara, St George the Great-Martyr, St Panteleimon (his church at Dolianova near Monastir is striking), St Catherine, St Basil the Great and St Constantine the Great. The latter is commemorated on the island as the thirteenth Apostle. There is also a warm devotion to the Mother of God. Thus, in the town of Sassari in the north-west of the island, an effigy of the Holy Virgin, mysteriously found many years ago, is carried in procession through the streets. The image shows the Virgin breast-feeding the Christ-Child, as in the famous Orthodox icon, thus proving that the Son of God truly became the Son of man.
The patron-saint of the capital, Cagliari, is St Ephysius, Sant’Efisio. Born in Palestine in the third century, he moved to Rome. There, under the Emperor Diocletian, he was made Governor of Sardinia. Converted to Christ here, in 303 he was arrested, tortured and beheaded. He is feasted on 15 January and also on the first Sunday in May. This is in memory of his saving of the town from the plague in 1656. There is a procession with thousands of people from all over the island dressed in beautiful traditional costumes. The procession with decorated wagons heads for the nearby village of Pula, where St Ephysius was martyred, and where stands an eleventh-century church in his honour. The most ancient church in Cagliari is dedicated to Sts Cosmas and Damian (SS. Cosimo and Damiano), and dates back to the fifth century. It is one of the most ancient and important churches in the whole of the western Mediterranean.
Proceeding clockwise around the island from Cagliari in the south, on the south-west coast we find the island and town of S. Antioco, which is named after St Antiochus (+ 110). By profession a doctor he suffered under the Emperor Hadrian and is celebrated on 13 December. In the west of the island, other ancient churches of the Orthodox Christian period include the fifth century domed church of St John of Sinis (S. Giovanni di Sinis). This is situated on the promontory of San Marco near Oristano. Other nearby churches include that of St Sabina at Silanus and north of Oristano, towards the town of Sassari in the north-west, is St Pietro di Sorres, probably the earliest example of Sardinian Romanesque. Then there is the church of the Holy Trinity at Saccargia just outside Sassari. Dating from the early twelfth century, it preserves Orthodox frescoes. In the north-east of the island in the town of Olbia there is an eleventh century church dedicated to the town’s patron saint, St Simplicius. He was martyred in the fourth century by being buried alive and is remembered on 15 May. And on the east coast there is the eleventh century church of S. Maria Navarresa which is also very beautiful.
Holy Martyrs of Sardinia, pray to God for your island!
See also :: www.orthodox.it