If you think that traditional devotion to a saint in Sardinia is all about processions, flowers, and songs, we invite you to discover S’Ardia, a wild and dangerous horse race, in honor of St. Constantine, simply called Santu Antine or Antinu.
S’Ardia has been held every year in July since 1806 in Sedilo, a small town of 2000 inhabitants in the province of Oristano. The origins of this popular horse race recall the battle of Ponte Milvio in 312 A.D, in which the future Roman Emperor Constantine saw the sign of victory in the sky.
The Knights of S’Ardìa
Racing on the occasion of S’Ardìa is a privilege that only a few, among the inhabitants of Sedilo, are granted: the name of the “first pandela”, or head of the race, is chosen from a list of names enrolled years earlier in a secret register kept by the parish priest and communicated to the entire village on January, 16th, the day of the feast of St. Anthony.
It will be the first pandela to choose its knights (sa secunda and sa terza pandela), as well as its escort, which represents the army of Constantine. The names of the lucky ones are proclaimed in May during the feast of St. Isidore.
S’Ardia: the route
The knights launch themselves along a steep and bumpy path at a crazy speed. In addition to the leader of the race, the “first pandela”, almost one hundred knights turn around the sanctuary 7 times and then head towards Sa Murredda, a circular space with a cross in the middle.
The route, the safe areas provided for the public and the location of the services are indicated on the official website dedicated to S’Ardia.
For Sedilo it is a day full of expectation and its preparation lasts months. Nowadays, the event has crossed regional borders and attracts tourists from all over Italy and abroad, also bewitched by the surrounding Nuragic complex of Iloi and the “domus de janas” of Ispiluncas.
The origins of S’Ardia and the dispute between Scano Montiferro and Sedilo
The story tells that, for a long time, until 1806, the year of the dispute between Scano Montiferro and Sedilo, S’Ardia was organized alternatively by the inhabitants of the two villages. Since 1806, S’Ardia has been held in Sedilo and only its inhabitants can take part in the horse race.
The origin of this popular festival comes from far away and should be sought in a mystical vision Don Giommaria Ledda had: while a prisoner of the Moors, he dreamt of meeting a young man dressed as a Roman warrior who promised him freedom in exchange of a dedicated church on Mount Isei.
He replied that he could not do it, being poor, and the young warrior disappeared. The next day, inexplicably, Giommaria was freed. Shortly after, during the journey to Ghilarza, he met again the young man who had dreamt about and, reminding him of his promise, gave him a coin purse with 20 gold coins.
So it was that Giommaria began to build on Mount Isei a sanctuary dedicated to Constantine and every time the coins ended, the purse donated by the young man filled up as if by magic.
Once the construction of the sanctuary and a lodging for the pilgrims was completed, Giommaria bought a statue of Santu Antine and set the date of the feast in honor of the saint the same day he had the vision and was freed by the Moors through the intercession of the warrior saint: July, 7th.
If you haven’t yet seen it with your own eyes, it is an experience not to be missed: dust, horses, delirious crowds mix with the religious experience, but keep intact the feverish participation of the people of Sedilo in honor of the warrior emperor, who later became a saint.