On 2 June Gaeta is preparing to celebrate its oldest festival. The feast of the Patron Saints Erasmus and Marciano lasts a few days and is the most important of this extraordinary town on one of the most particular promontories of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Let’s see first how the link between Gaeta and these two saints arose.
Saint Erasmus was born in Turkey in the 3rd century, when these territories were still part of the Roman Empire,and he became bishop of Antioch.
When the persecutions began, first he hid in a cave, then he was discovered and suffered various tortures, notwithstanding this it was told that he had been able to convert an incredible number of people, perhaps four hundred thousand. And for this reason, one of the stories around his being tells that the archangel Michael himself took him to Formia where he died and was buried on June 2 of the year 303.
In 842 the bones were brought to Gaeta from Formia by the bishop fleeing from the Saracens and hidden in the church of Santa Maria. After being forgotten, in 917 they were rediscovered and immediately Sant’Erasmo was proclaimed a saint and the cathedral was co-located there. Because of his link with the territory, he is the patron saint of both Formia and Gaeta, and also of Bassiano.
He is considered the patron saint of sailors and protector of stomach sufferers for the legend that he was martyred with a winch used to cut his stomach.
The story of San Marciano, a disciple of the apostle Peter, is very different. He too was born in Turkey but in the first century AD and, according to one of the many stories, he became the first bishop of the West and precisely of Syracuse.
To escape the Arab conquests, his remains were transferred to Patras and perhaps arrived in Gaeta thanks to merchants who wanted to give prestige to the city with the relics of a holy martyr.
According to tradition, the feast in honour of the city’s patrons originated in the 9th century AD. when Gaeta went through one of its periods of maximum splendour with the Duchy of Gaeta that can be defined as a Maritime Republic. Between 839 and 1140 Gaeta was independent, flourishing (with its own currency) and its ships travelled and traded in the Mediterranean Sea.
The city was transformed and began to pay homage to their saints with the enlargement and embellishment of the cathedral. Then from the seventeenth century the sacred relics were placed in the prestigious and artistic “succorpo”.
The news of the festival began in 1862 when the King of Italy Victor Emmanuel II of Savoy abolished the Buffalo Hunt, a variant of the more classic “bullfight”, which took place at this time and which attracted a huge crowd even from Rome and Caserta.
The festival then became only a religious festival but for many years, games, singers and fireworks were introduced as part of the festivities. In recent years the traditional “Sea Procession” has returned, during which the reliquary busts are hosted by the sailing ship Signora del Vento, which sets sail from the Caboto quay to the Commercial Port.
From here the procession though the town starts, that along the way receives the greeting and blessing from the various city parishes. To conclude, it stops in Piazza XIX Maggio for the blessing of the city and the return to the Cathedral.
On June 1, in the Cathedral, in addition to the flowers and candles offered to the Patron Saints, provides for the traditional offer is revived of oil for the votive lamp to the Patron Saints. On June 2nd the festival ends with fireworks in the best Italian tradition.
The programme is rich in religious content, culture and entertainment in the wake of a tradition of faith and devotion that has been handed down for decades. These are days in which devotion is intertwined with the particular sensations that come from the ancient traditions, still a moment when the whole community gets together.
This is a good excuse to come to this amazing city linking history and nature at the very beginning of the beach and swimming season!