Our Lady of the Carmel of Terracina. At the origins of Devotion.

Your Terracine
Honours and worships you
Celestial Lady
With tender love

With these words, which are part of the popular lauda “Evviva la Bella/Regina del Cielo”, the people of Terracenza greet and honor Our Lady of Carmine. Patroness of Fishermen, She is celebrated, together with San Rocco, in July.

A Spasso Con Sara in search of the true origins of the Terracina Sea Festival.


On the places of the Feast

Borgo Pio is a reference point for celebrations. Also known as the “Marina” district, it is the lower historical centre of the city of Terracina.

Numerous archaeological remains (Appia Traianea, remains of the Roman port, Forum Severiano), attest to the existence of a low terrace since the Roman Imperial Age.

But a remarkable development of this part of the town occurred only towards the end of the eighteenth century, thanks to the work of Pius VI Braschi. In fact, the Pope made Terracina the physical terminal and the organizational pole of the grandiose work of reclaiming the Pontine marshes promoted by him.

At that juncture the Borgo Pio was born, the quarter of the fishermen, and the neoclassical church of the Santissimo Salvatore that guards, to its inside, the Statue of the Madonna of the Carmine.

The Church of the Santissimo Salvatore di Terracina (Credits: terracinablog.altervista.com)


The Brotherhood of the Carmelite

The religious organization of the celebrations of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is coordinated by the confraternity of the same name which has been dealing with it since the beginning of the twentieth century, when the Virgin was elected patroness of the fishermen of the city.

Born in 1852, thanks to Don Bonifacio Saporiti and some notables from Terracenza, such as Altobelli, Capponi and Risoldi, and most of the fishermen, the Brotherhood of Carmine assisted the parish priest of the Church of the Most Holy Saviour in the exercise of works of mercy towards the needy of the Borgo Pio and gave a special cult and honour to the Most Holy Virgin of the Carmel.

The brethren, as can be seen from the first statute, originally wore a carmine or lion coloured sack, with a white hood and hub, the coat of arms of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on their chest, and a leather belt on their sides woven with the rosary crown.

Even today, the male members of the Brotherhood wear an outfit that makes them perfectly recognizable: white shirt and black trousers. They carry on their shoulders the statue of the Madonna through the streets of the city.

Women, however, especially the most religious, wear on their heads a white handkerchief embroidered with the image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Some mebers of the confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in an old photo

Some members of the confraternity while preparing to carry the statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (photo by Jolly Barone)

The Feast

The celebration of Our Lady of Mount Carmel begins on July 16, the day of the apparition of the Virgin to St. Simon Stock, the first Superior General of the Carmelites.

The last three days of the festival, however, will be staged during the following weekend that today, just like yesterday, is still the most anticipated by all the people of Terracina.

The highlight of the festival is the Holy Mass on Saturday afternoon in the Church of the Holy Savior, followed by a procession in which the Statue of Our Lady of Carmel with the Child Jesus in her arms, accompanied by that of San Rocco and the Cross, runs through the streets of the lower town of Terracina to the port to embark on paranze.

The Virgin of the Carmel and San Rocco in procession through the streets of the city (photo by Jolly Barone)

The parance that has the honour of carrying the statue of Carmine, according to tradition, is chosen by chance with a “tombola” in the Fishermen’s Cooperative, the other responsible for organizing the festival.

Decorated with lights and flags, the parances start for the evocative procession to the sea that covers about 4 or 5 miles and two hours of navigation. On the edge of the promontory of the Circeo, a crown of flowers is thrown into the sea in honour of the fallen and the boats return to the port late at night.

A paranza ready for the procession (Credits: terracinablog.altervista.com)

The return of the Virgin of Carmel is greeted with a moment of thrill. The paranza with the Statue of the Madonna stops at the mouth of the Port and watches a fireworks display in his honor. The entire population and a large group of tourists gather at the dock or along the pier of the port to attend the return of the procession.

the Madonna del Carmine during the fireworks display (photo by Jolly Barone)

Disembarked, the Virgin is accompanied back to the Church of the Savior by a suggestive torchlight procession. At the moment of returning to the Church, Our Lady is then turned towards the square to greet the faithful. This is the most exciting moment.

The Church therefore remains open for a few hours to allow the faithful to venerate the Virgin.

The Virgin of Carmel as she returns to the church and looks upon the faithful to bless them (photo by Jolly Barone).


The origin of the festival

The festival, which combines religious celebrations with different moments, such as the town fair, the fish festival, the traditional concert, has its roots in history.

A lady during the fish festival of Terracina (credits: albergomediterraneo.blogspot.com)

The characteristic procession by sea was in fact established in 1938 on the instructions of the parish priest Monsignor Di Manno who was struck by a procession on the Danube during his stay in Budapest for a Eucharistic congress.
The organization of the event at sea was only possible in the late ’30s, when Terracina now had a large fishing fleet. However, the tradition was interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War. In that temporal period, the Terracina parances were in fact requisitioned and used as minesweepers and then sunk in Tunisia.

The remarkable resonance of the procession, beyond the boundaries of the city, is due to Don Vincenzo Rozzi. Nominated parish priest of the Holy Saviour in 1948, when Terracina was still under the weight of the ruins of the war, he focused his pastoral programme on the brotherhood and the feasts of the Carmine, to give vital and spiritual life to a community strongly tried by the war.

Terracina destroyed by bombardments during the Second World War (credits: lombardiabeniculturali.it)

In 1950, he developed the idea of the Coronation of the ancient statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, inserting this solemnity in a double and significant spiritual setting: it was the holy year and the centenary of the founding of the confraternity. The event took place in Piazza Garibaldi, the square in front of the Church of SS Salvatore, where the gold crowns, made by Giuseppe Sarracino with gold offered by the faithful, were blessed and placed on the head of the Virgin and Child.

The Coronation brought with it a new approach to the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, as the procession by sea, originally very opposed to the risk to which civilians who boarded the boat were exposed, became the crucial and best known moment of the entire celebration of Our Lady of Carmel. And since then, the feast of the Carmine rightly assumed also the denomination of “Feast of the Sea”.


Southern Influences

The devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel has links with the South of Italy, where the Blessed Virgin is also honoured. Terracina is intimately linked to the Mezzogiorno, not only for its geographical position (it is just over 100 km from Naples), but also for historical reasons.

On the occasion of the birth of the Borgo Pio, Pope Braschi called numerous families of fishermen from Torre del Greco and other places of the Kingdom of Naples to teach the art of fishing to the people of Terracenza. And it was in this way that they brought new traditions and new cults to the charming town on the coast of Lazio, including probably that of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

The fishermen of Terracina in an old image (credits: www.centrostudipierpaolopasolinicasarsa.it)


Posted by Sara Pandozzi

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