On February 14 in Sorrento is the feast of the Patron Saint: St. Anthony
If you ask anyone from Sorrento what is celebrated on February 14th, do not be doubtful about the answer! Forget Valentine’s Day, on this day all around the town of Sorrento, people celebrate the death of the Patron Saint of Sorrento, St. Anthony Abbot, which occurred on the 14th of February, in 265 a.c.
Words are not enough to describe how much this local feast is truly felt: the celebration is preceded by a novena beginning on the 5th of February with the tolling of church bells that advise the people of Sorrento that the feast is soon to be and as a result, also the coming of spring.
“A Santu Biase ‘o sole p’e case, a Sant’Andulino ‘o sole p’e marine”. It’s this very proverb that is read aloud and that opens doors to warmer weather where tourism flourishes and crowds of devotees who pay homage to this tradition.
On the eve of the feast, from the early morning hours, the prodigious silver statue of the Saint is exposed on the high altar of the Basilica of Sant’Antonino, ready to accommodate the flow of faithful who celebrate the entrance of the Saint to eternal life.
During the festival the statue is carried by sailors from Marina Piccola on their shoulders, throughout the main streets of Sorrento, by the Archbishop and by the civil and military authorities.
After the statue is brought around town, it is then carried to the Basilica where the Archbishop celebrates the Eucharist. The Basilica is indeed the true focus of the celebration, where locals come and “greet” the patron.
“Not inside, not outside the walls”, these were the last words of St. Anthony about his burial, and this explains the exact location of the Basilica which houses the mortal remains of the Saint, which is situated amongst the ancient town walls of Sorrento.
The most visited part of the Church is the crypt, more commonly known as Succorpo, which houses the remains of St. Anthony; It occupies the entire left side of the building and is placed at a lower level, accessible by two staircases.
Once down below in the crypt, the first thing that jumps out to the eye is the altar, placed at the center of the room, around which a path leads the devotees to pay homage to St. Anthony: behind the same altar, an oil lamp with silver foil is touched and followed by reciting prayers. This is nothing more than a story of a miracle healing of a Bishop of Sorrento. The Bishop was was riding a mule, and then thrown off and therefore fractured his leg. During that night, the Bishop dreamt about Sant’Antonino taking an oil vial that had been blessed by the the Virgin Mary. The Bishop woke up with a cured leg.
Once the religious celebration is over the feast continues outside the Basilica, where all kinds of markets and stands fill the streets of the center of town. The day before the feast the famous Corso Italia road begins to be perpare for the fair: stalls and stands start looking for a strategic place to position themselves.
A few years ago, reflecting the spirit of devotion that characterizes this feast, the figure of Brother Cosimo, a Franciscan monk of the convent of Santa Maria a Chieia (Vico Equense) strolled the entire religious procession barefoot, surrounded by children and doves.
Well, just like yesterday, nowadays the love of the locals for to their Patron is very intense, almost like wanting to reciprocate that trust and affection shown by the Patron in the past, when he sacrificed himself and put himself through hard work to give this special land the renowned name it has today.
The silver statue itself was a miracle: it seems that during the invasion of the Turks (1558) it was stolen and Sorrento, not having enough money to make another, had to accept the fact of not having one; It was on that occasion that St. Anthony showed up in flesh and blood to the sculptor, that reproduced him in his own image.
Small gestures and little anecdotes keep this tradition alive throughout the years among the youth and elderly.
Photo set by Federica Guarracino