Maratea is well known as the town of the 44 churches.
The most important church is the the Basilica of S. Blaise, on top of S. Biagio mountain (644 m).
Saint Blaise’s Feast
Every year, on the first Saturday of May, with the procession “Saint Blaise goes on a ride on the land”, which takes place around the ruins of ancient Maratea, we can see the beginning of the solemn celebration in honor of Saint Blaise, patron saint of the city. On the following Thursday the members of the ancient Saint Blaise’s Congregation, founded in the 16th century, transport along the mountain pathway the silver statue of the saint covered with a purple red piece of cloth, from Upper Maratea (“Maratea di suso”) to Lower Maratea (“Maratea di giuso”). The covering of the statue represents the saint’s neutral position in relation to the disputes between the two communities for the owning of the Feast. Then, at the entrance of the historical center the statue is traditionally received by the religious authorities and the city mayor, who offers it the key of the city. On Saturday morning a solemn procession goes through the whole historical center, where for the occasion there is a huge open air market. In the evening the city is enlightened by the many colorful light decorations and musical concerts. On Sunday morning a huge faithful crowd goes up the mountain accompanying the statue of the saint in a procession that takes it to Saint Blaise’s Basilica where it lies protected during the whole year.
The Redeemer Christ
On the top of Mount Saint Blaise we can see the unmistakable colossal statue of the Redeemer Christ, visible to all the cities along the entire Gulf of Policastro. Ordered by Count Stefano Rivetti, who was the one responsible for the tourist and industrial development of the city in the 60’s, the statue represents a symbol of faith and by means of its colossal dimensions, also a strong tourist attraction that receives thousands of visitors every year. It is 22 meters high with its arms that open as wide as 19 meters and a face that is as large as 3 meters, and was sculptured by Bruno Innocenti, who started working on it on November 1963 to have his work done in 1965. The statue has its structure made of concrete deeply anchored in the rock and is covered with a mixture of white cement and chips of Carrara marble. It is the second highest statue of the Redeemer Christ in the world, coming after the one in Rio de Janeiro, and takes place where there once was a monumental cross that was erected in 1942 by Biagio Vitolo. The Christ, with his young face and his just grown beard, opens his arms to Saint Blaise’s Basilica in a gesture that means he protects the entire community. Next year Maratea will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the construction of the statue.
Saint Blaise’s Basilica (Basilica di San Biagio)
According to tradition, the current church was built over an ancient pagan temple dedicated to the goddess Minerva but there is no archeological evidence to prove this theory. It is presumed the construction of the church had its beginning around the 6th – 7th century AD when, as supposed, a community of Basilian monks founded Upper Maratea. The architectural aspect of the building is a result of several structural aggregations along the centuries, like as presumed, a defense tower which in that position dominated both sides of the mountain, working as a fortress to protect the city entrance gates. The church was originally named after Our Lady of Graces, and then its name was changed in honor of Saint Blaise, Bishop of Armenia, whose relics were brought to Maratea in 732 AD. According to the legend, a furious tempest stopped the ship that was transporting the Martyr’s relics and those of Saint Macario, near the Isle of Santojanni. From the castle the inhabitants of Maratea saw the ship surrounded by a divine light. After the tempest had ceased, a mysterious power would not let the ship go away and this was interpreted as a sign of the Saint’s wish to stay in Maratea. So his relics left the ship and were taken to church and only then the ship was able to continue its trip. The church was object of many changes, mainly from the 18th century up to the ones made a few years ago. Currently its sober aspect inside should recall its original architectural style. On the 10th of August of the year 1940, the Pope Pio XII elevated the church to the title of Papal Basilica. The cult of Saint Blaise along the centuries has attracted devotees from faraway places, especially Naples, and they have provided the church with several works of art, many of them lost nowadays. Among the beauties inside the church, we can see a precious wood choir and a big altar piece painted in 1578 by the painter from Naples Michele Curia, put back in the presbytery and composed by three paintings representing Our Lady of Graces with Baby Jesus in the middle, Saint John the Baptist on the right and Saint Blaise on the left, all of them surrounded by a precious carved golden frame. On the first column on the left we can see a fresco that dates back to the late 15th century, representing Our Lady with Baby Jesus, also called Our Lady of the Pomegranate, brought to the light in 1963. Of great quality are the 17th century marble bas-reliefs with the Annunciation and Our Lady of Wisdom. On the left side of the wall in the presbytery, we can see an 18th century painting by the School of Naples representing Saint Blaise in glory protecting the city surrounded by towers and defense walls. On the left nave, in the middle, on the Great altar, we can see the 18th century wood statue of Our Lady of Graces, while in the back we can see the tabernacle donated by the Canonical Guglielmo Deodato in 1519. The baptismal font in white stone and the central iron and bronze gate are ancient. The six polychrome marble altars are from Naples and date back to the 18th century. They were reconstructed and then put back into their places in 1978. The one in the presbytery on the left holds Saint Macario’s relics. The importance of the Sanctuary is surely represented by the Royal Chapel where lies the ancient stone urn that contains Saint Blaise’s thorax and part of his skull and also his silver statue made by the sculptor Romano Vio in 1979. The statue is a copy of the original one made by Domenico De Blasio in 1706 in Naples, then stolen in 1976 and never found again. The name Royal Chapel derives from the “Ius Patronatus” (patronage) acquired in 1619 by King Philip IV from Naples with a donation of 1000 ducats. In those years Saint Blaise’s Congregation enriched the chapel with marble and the columns we can see nowadays. In the past and even recently there has been the phenomenon of the Miraculous Sweat (Sacra Manna), which is liquid that oozes from the Saint’s columns and urn and has healing properties, especially for throat problems. Maratea celebrates Saint Blaise, its patron saint, with a four-day feast that ends on the second Sunday of May of every year.