Even if in the rest of the world, the 14th of February is the “Lovers Day”, better known as Valentine’s Day, in Sorrento, there is another kind of celebration. On the 14th, they celebrate Sant’Antonio Abate, patron of the city and co-patron, together with San Catello bishop of the Archdiocese of Sorrento and Castellammare di Stabia.
It is certainly an unmissable event for the Sorrento people and a day of great celebrations. On this occasion, in fact, the Sorrento families gather together to celebrate the patron and all the family components named Antonino (which, of course, is the most used name in the area).
Celbrations in honour of Sant'Antonino: An Event
On this day, celebrations start very early. The Basilica of Sant’Antonino, named after the patron, hosts the first holy mass at 5 A.M. in the crypt below (where the remains of Sant’Antonino are kept). At that hour, there are already many faithful attending the ceremony. A religious procession composed by the ecclesiastical authorities, representatives of the various confraternities, along with the population, carries the ancient silver simulacrum of the Saint (made in 1564 by the goldsmith Scipio di Costantio) through the streets of the historic centre. The tradition usually starts at 9 A.M. and the statue is brought back a few hours later to the Basilica for another solemn Mass.
During the day, an animated crowd livens up Sorrento and the area around the Basilica and Corso Italia is the most crowded because of the market stalls and the typical lights.
According to the tradition, on this day, a large part of the commercial, recreational and tourist establishments of Sorrento, closed until that moment for the seasonal holidays, reopen their activities, for the new working season: it is a way to start again with the blessing of Saint Patron.
The religious celebration in honour of Sant’Antonino ends when it starts, at the Basilica. The evening service is accompanied by religious chants and the traditional panegyric of the Saint.
Celebrations in honour of Sant'Antonino: fun fact
This ritual preserves some very interesting aspects of the tradition: firstly, it takes place in the morning according to an ancient principle: religious processions should not be carried out in the evening due to the lack of light. Another aspect is linked to the presence of the Bishop in the religious procession: the ecclesiastical authority, in fact, does not reach the procession from the Basilica, but from the Cathedral. He actually waits for the faithful to arrive and escort him to the Basilica where he will hold the solemn final Mass. This aspect of the tradition is very ancient and it makes the liturgical experience even more special.
Another interesting aspect related to this ceremony concerns the Saint’s simulacrum: the current statue is the second representation of Saint Antonino, made immediately after the terrible incursion of the Turks on June 13 1558. They stole the original and old effigy.
Despite being devastated by this theft, the people of Sorrento decided to make a new one. However, they did not have the money to commission it. The story says a miracle happened: a man appeared to the Neapolitan goldsmith with the needed money to pay for the new statue. Only later, they identified the old gentleman as Sant’Antonino. This is just one of the many myths, stories and miracles related to the life of the Saint.
The most famous certainly is the prodigious rescue of a young boy from a whale. Tales say that one day a young boy playing on the Sorrento beach was swallowed alive by a whale. His desperate mother asked for help to Sant’Antonino who arrived at the beach and ordered some fishermen to go looking for the cetacean and bring it to him. When that happened, the whale was literally gutted and the boy came out safely.