January 9

Madonna della Lettera, Messina, Sicily, Italy

The Madonna's intervention saved Messina during the earthquakes that shook most of Sicily in 1693. On January 9 of that year, when the first tremors began, the Virgin Mary appeared to a sick girl named Paola Alfonsina, daughter of jurist Antonio Pesce. As Benedetto Chiarello, S.J., wrote in 1705, "Suddenly she saw the window of her little room open unexpectedly, and through it came a marvelous woman dressed in white with a blue mantle" who smiled at her and said, "Fear not." The Madonna returned during the night and, asked to protect the city, replied that the people should remain joyful and wait in the cathedral before the altar of the Madonna della Lettera. Followed by a tsunami along the entire coast, the January 11 earthquake left 54,000 casualties. Messina suffered damage and flooding but was was spared the brunt of the disaster. Afterwards, the Madonna reappeared to Paola with words of comfort and over the next few days to others as well. Local tradition holds that the Virgin honored the people of Messina by writing a letter to them, dated from Jerusalem, "in the year of her Son, 42." The icon of the Madonna della Lettera occupies the high altar of Messina's Cathedral, which was founded around the fourth century and used as a stable during the Islamic occupation, then reconstructed around 1168 and consecrated on 22 September 1197 to the Virgin Mary. Like the mosaics and other art in the cathedral, destroyed in the Allied bombardment of 1943, the icon is a reproduction. While the original was held to be by St. Luke, the present icon is by Messinese artist Adolfo Romano. On the feast day of Our Lady of the Letter, June 3, it is displayed in a jeweled gold cover usually kept in the cathedral museum. The Madonna della Lettera is also represented by a completely gilded statue in the belltower and by a 20' monument at the harbor entrance, with the huge inscription: "Vos et ipsam civitatem benedicimus" ("We bless you and your city"), from the letter's text. The harbor statue was unveiled on August 2, 1934 and, thanks to Gugliemo Marconi, fitted with a special device allowing it to be illuminated from the Vatican in Rome. (Information from www.granmirci.it/lettera.htm; Sito Web dedicato a Maria SS. della Lettera, www.madonnadellalettera.it; and it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duomo_di_Messina. Photo by Pippo Lombardo from www.messinaweb.eu.)  
 

Where We Walked ~~~ Mary Ann Daly