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WHAT TO SEE IN ITALY: The Feast of Maria Santissima dell'Alto Mare and the Miracle of San Fantino

2021-02-27 21:59

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The cult of the area towards Mary Most Holy of the High Sea and Saint Fantino dates back to the first millennium of the Christian era, in ancient Tauriana.




The cult of the area towards Mary Most Holy of the High Sea and Saint Fantino dates back to the first millennium of the Christian era, in ancient Tauriana, as a result of an event that people of the time described as miraculous. The event is described in the biography of the life of St Fantino, written by the bishop of the Tauriana diocese, Peter, in 813 (miracle no. 18). One of the miracles that occurred through the intercession of the saint was that he and the Virgin Mary appeared on a rock in the sea near Tauriana.

The bishop said that while the memory of the saint, a native of Tauriana, was being celebrated, the locals saw Saracen ships arriving. The town's army prepared for battle and many people from Tauriana went to the saint's grave to ask for his protection. Soon afterwards a storm broke out and the ships were wrecked. The few Saracens who survived, once arrested, said they saw a woman on the rock dressed in purple and a young man with his hair in the wind and holding a smoking embers that, at a sign from the woman, threw the same embers into the sea, causing a storm to break out. The people recognised in the woman the mother of Jesus and in the young man the figure of Saint Fantino.

This prodigy, which can be dated to around 560 AD, gave rise to the cult of the Madonna, known as the 'Alto Mare', in Tauriana.

The church of San Fantino, which fell into neglect in the 15th century, was also rebuilt in 1552 by the Count of Seminara Pietro Antonio Spinelli, feudal lord of Palmi, naming it after 'Santa Maria ab alto Mari'.

In the mid-19th century, there is evidence of a festival in Palmi dedicated to 'Santa Maria di Altomare', celebrated 'con gran concorso'.

The feast celebrated in its present form dates back to the 1930s, when the statue that is still the focus of the celebrations was made. In the 1960s, the statue was moved from the main altar of the small church of San Fantino to the new parish church, which is also dedicated to the local saint.

In 1994, a painting of St Fantino was made by Palmese artist Loredana La Capria, and in the course of the 21st century, the thousand-year-old festival in honour of the saint was restored.

To commemorate the miracle of the year 560, on 24 July 2010 the effigy of Mary Most Holy of the High Sea was crowned with a diadem, made entirely of gold and blessed by Pope Benedict XVI on 26 May 2010.

The 2020 celebrations coincided with the tenth anniversary of the crowning of the statue of the Virgin Mary and the presentation and blessing of the new sculpture of St Fantino by Ferdinand Stufflesser.

The episode, centuries later, has left its mark on the toponymy. Today's 'Scoglio delle Navi' (Rock of Ships) is the site of the apparition of St. Phantinus with the Virgin Mary, formerly called Πέtραι υήες (petre nees) or Stones of Ships, (the Saracen ships), which has taken on the name Petri Niri (Black Stones) in dialect.

It is known to all fishermen and connoisseurs of the sea as 'a sicca i San Fantinu' (the shoal of San Fantino) a few miles to the harbour in the direction of the Temple of San Fantino. This is where the miracle of the shipwreck took place (miracle No 18 - bios of San Fantino).

Later, in 1552, the Count of Seminara, Pirro Spinelli, wanted to remember this miracle, which 'is said to have been learnt by their fathers, who had learnt it from their ancestors and left it as an inheritance to their children'. He set up various initiatives, including the reconstruction of the church dedicated to San Fantino and the Madonna Maria Santissima dall'Alto Mare and the creation of a painting depicting the Madonna between San Fantino and San Filippo, surrounded by a cycle of saints. In the centre is the town of Taureana in 1500 with the Castle, the "Temple of the Saint" a reliquary (St. Fantino), a fountain representing life, a well representing the Aghiasma (the holy spring), the sea with the sailing ship, representing danger but also progress, and at the bottom the coat of arms of the Spinelli family.


The present sculptural group of Maria Santissima dell'Alto Mare and angels worshipped in Taureana di Palmi is a work of 1931 by an unknown artist from a southern Italian workshop, presumably attributable to the company Giuseppe Malecore of Lecce.

On 4 January 2020, restoration work began on the work by the architect Amedeo Lico of Breton. Amedeo Lico of Bretia Restauri. The sculpture was returned to the veneration of the faithful on 23 July of the same year.

The procession of Saint Fantino with horses

The feast of the patron saint of the parish and Taureana, Saint Fantino the horse rider, is also celebrated during the novena period on 24 July, the day on which the liturgical calendar celebrates the date of the saint's death. The event is organised by the 'Knights of St Fantino' and the Committee for the Celebration of Our Lady of the High Sea and consists of the blessing of the horses (24 in number) and riders, followed by a procession on horseback of the icon of the saint. The blessing takes place after the Eucharistic celebration in the square in front of the church of San Fantino, while the procession runs from the parish church to the old 19th-century church, both dedicated to the saint, and begins with horsemen on horseback, followed by a carriage with the parish priest holding the icon of St Fantino. The faithful, who follow the carriage during the procession, once they arrive at the crypt of St Fantino, which is located under the 19th century church, proceed to a traditional kissing of the icon of the saint.

The procession 'on land and sea'.

The day dedicated to Mary Most Holy of the High Sea is, as mentioned, the Saturday before the last Sunday in July. During the morning, various liturgical celebrations are held in the church.
In the late afternoon, the main event of the day is celebrated, which consists of the traditional, centuries-old procession through the streets of the town and the sea of the processional base with the sculptural group dedicated to Our Lady of the High Sea. For some years now, the icon of St Fantino has also been placed at the foot of the sculptural group;
The composition of the procession, listed in order of procession, is as follows:
"Drummer ensemble". The procession is opened by a drummer's ensemble that performs a marked rhythm throughout the duration of the procession;

  • Comitato festeggiamenti di Maria Santissima dell'Alto Mare (Festive Committee of Mary Most Holy of the High Sea), with banner, processional crucifix and representation of members;
  • Parish priest and clergy of the parish of San Fantino;
  • Processional base with the simulacrum of Maria Santissima dell'Alto Mare and the icon of Saint Fantino;
  • Musical band;


The procession route runs through the streets of the parish of San Fantino (Taureana di Palmi, Pietrenere and Tonnara di Palmi).

Once the procession arrives in the seaside village of Pietrenere, after crossing the districts of Taureana and an ancient path, it proceeds to embark on a hull of the processional base of Maria Santissima dell'Alto Mare, to continue with the 'procession to the sea'. The point of embarkation is usually the beach in front of the Isola rock, with disembarkation near the Ulivo rock after having skimmed the beaches of the entire bay of Tonnara di Palmi (about 1.7 km). In recent years, however, both embarkation and disembarkation have taken place in the port of Palmi. The sea procession consists of a main boat in which the ferculum of the Madonna is placed with the bearers and the clergy, a boat on which there is a band and other boats of the faithful, who follow in the wake of the two main boats. After disembarking the processional base of the Madonna, the procession resumes its overland route to return to the church.

Civil traditions

The programme of civil festivities in honour of Our Lady of the Upper Sea includes a number of specific events, concentrated essentially in the triduum that ends on the last Sunday in July:

  • the traditional 'parade of the Giants', two tall papier-mâché figures that are carried on the shoulders of the town's Catholic festivities through the streets and squares, spinning them around to simulate a dance and to the insistent sound of the drums of the typical 'drummer's group'. On the occasion of this festival, the pair of Giants used is the one owned by the Parish of San Fantino;
  • the parade of a musical band through the streets of Taureana in the morning;
  • the firing of firecrackers to coincide with certain events during the festival;
  • a musical performance usually held in the square in front of the church
  • a fireworks display at the end of the day or at the end of the procession, carried out from the Port of Palmi.
  • In addition, on the feast days, the church façade, Via del Mare and Via Saletta, streets adjacent to the place of worship, are decorated with illuminations and a small fair of street vendors is also held in these streets.
  • Before the procession of Saint Fantino, on 24 July, the 'Don Salvatore D'Agostino and Nino Punturiero' prize is awarded annually to a prominent personality of the town of Palmi.

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