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What to see in Italy: the cult of the Virgin of the Letter in Palmi

2021-02-27 14:10

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What to see in Italy: the cult of the Virgin of the Letter in Palmi

Our Lady of the Letter is one of the names used by the Catholic religion in the veneration of Mary, mother of Jesus.

What to see in Italy: the cult of the Our Lady of the Letter in Palmi

Madonna della Lettera is one of the names used by the Catholic religion in the veneration of Mary, mother of Jesus.

Our Lady of the Letter is venerated by the Catholic faithful as the patron saint of Messina, Palmi (province of Reggio Calabria), Finale (province of Palermo) and Pannaconi (province of Vibo Valentia).


Madonna della Lettera on a votive stele at the entrance to the port of Messina


"Vos et ipsam Civitatem benedicimus".


"We bless you and your City".

(From Mary's Letter to the people of Messina)


The birth of the cult in Messina


  • Tradition

According to tradition, when St Paul arrived in Messina to preach the Gospel, he found the population willing to convert. Many of the townspeople soon accepted the invitation and converted to Christianity, and in 42, when Paul was preparing to return to Palestine, some of the Messina inhabitants asked to accompany him so that they could meet the Virgin Mary in person. So a delegation of Messina citizens went to Palestine with a letter, in which the many fellow citizens who had converted to the faith of Christ professed their faith and asked for the protection of Mary.

Mary welcomed them and, in response to the letter, sent back a letter of her own, written in Hebrew, rolled up and bound with a lock of her hair. The delegation returned to Messina on 8 September 42 with the important letter, in which Mary praised their faith, said she appreciated their devotion and assured them of her perpetual protection. The lock of hair is kept in the Cathedral of Messina and exhibited on the day of Corpus Christi, set in the mast of a small silver galleon, which is one of the examples of Our Lady's protection for Messina.

In 1647, Sister Maria Roccaforte, a Benedictine nun from Bivona and known for her confessed revelations to her spiritual father about Santa Rosalia, had visions of the Virgin Mary and the Guardian Angel that confirmed the authenticity of the Lettera. The cult of Our Lady of the Letter, however, became established in 1716, the year in which the monk Gregorio Arena brought a translation of Mary's letter from Arabic to Messina. Since then, the city of Messina has celebrated the feast day on 3 June, with a crowded procession of the silver ferculum of the Madonna.

From the cult of Our Lady of the Letter comes the tradition, widespread above all in Messina and its province, of the names Letterio and Letteria.

The text of the letter given to the delegation of Messina residents reads:

"Most humble servant of God,
Mother of Jesus crucified
of the tribe of Judah
of the lineage of David,
Greetings to all the people of Messina
and blessing of God the Father Almighty.
We understand by public instrument that you all with great faith
have sent us Legates and Ambassadors,
confessing that Our Son, begotten of God
begotten of God is God and man
And that after his resurrection he ascended into heaven:
having known the way of truth
Through the preaching of Paul the Apostle elect
For which we bless you and your city
Of which we wish to be the perpetual protector.

From Jerusalem 3 June in the year 42 of our Son. Indiation 1 moon XXVII".

The phrase Vos et ipsam Civitatem benedicimus ("We bless you and your city") is today written in large letters at the base of the stele of the Madonnina on the far arm of the port of Messina.

It should be noted that the text of the letter bears an inconsistency in the date, since Christian dating did not yet exist at that time.


  • Tradition

    The work of Flavius Lucius Dextrus
    No sufficiently reliable historical documents have been found to confirm the facts narrated by tradition. There is a work, the Chronicon Omnimodae Historiae by the historian Flavius Lucius Dextrus (4th-5th century AD) which states:


    "Apud Messanenses celebris est memoria B. Virginis Mariae, missa ipsis ab aedem dulci epistula]'.


    "(IT) 'Famous among the people of Messina is the memory of the sweet epistle written by the Blessed Virgin Mary'.

    However, according to some historians, including Theodor Mommsen, this sentence is an interpolation of the text, inserted at a later date.


    photo below:

    The statue of Our Lady of the Letter at the entrance to the port of Messina, with the inscription below



The cult in Palmi

The cult in Palmi towards the Madonna of the Holy Letter derives from a historical event. In 1575, a plague epidemic broke out in Messina, killing more than 40,000 people.

The citizens of Palmi took in those who fled from the Peloritan city and also sent aid in the form of food and oil through its sailors. Once the calamity had passed, the city of Messina wished to donate one of the Madonna's hairs to the ecclesiastical authorities of Palmi as a sign of thanks for their help, and these were brought to the Sicilian city together with a letter of blessing.

In 1582, a reliquary containing a sacred hair of the Virgin arrived at the Marina of Palmi.

From that moment on, even the people of Palmi began to venerate the Madonna, known as 'della Sacra Lettera' (of the Holy Letter) and they adopted her black effigy enclosed in a silver mantle in the likeness of the one venerated in the city of Palmi.

The Sacred Congregation of Rites, by decree of 12 September 1733, elected the Madonna della Lettera as the city's principal patron saint, fixing the Divine Office and Holy Mass on the last Sunday in August.

On 22 March 1734, Ercole Michele Ajerbi of Aragon, Bishop of the Diocese of Mileto, granted 40 days' indulgence to all the priests of Palmi who, after reciting the Divine Office, devoutly read the Letter of Mary to the people. Pope Pius VI also granted an indulgence on 26 January 1776.

the cult in Finale

The cult of the Madonna della Lettera arrived in Finale (in the province of Palermo) through the Ventimiglia family, marquises of Geraci, feudal owners of the Madonie, of which the fief of Finale was also a part. This village was the summer residence of the noble family. The cult is mainly due to its kinship with the noble Moncada family from Messina, who were very devoted to the Madonna della Lettera.

fonte :

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