Church of Santa Maria di Ognina
Catania and the sea
The town of Catania is in strict symbiosis with the sea; the coast in the area around Catania, varied and all equally picturesque, on one side goes towards the Simeto river and on the other towards Acicastello; near the border with Acicastello is the picturesque fishing village of Ognina, a priviledged destination for anyone wishing to enjoy a moment of fusion with the sea and with the world of fishermen. Boats, decorated wit painted stripes of various colours, crowd in the small harbour and the docks are transformed, especially on Sundays, into an animated and colourful fish market.
The Church of S . Maria di Ognina at the centre of the neighbourhood
The core of the neighbourhood , with its most relevant focal points, the church, the adjacent tower and the harbour, started taking the shape of a fishing village in 1714: Documents of that period testify the presence of warehouses, taverns and boatmen’s houses.
One of the periods of maximum architectural beauty was around the end of the nineteenth century, when a few holiday homes started to appear in this area, belonging to the wealthy families who could afford to maintain a home outside the city’s historical centre.
The small church of S. Maria di Ognina , with its rigorous and essential façade , stands in the square that gently goes down towards the sea. The origin of the church is rather old ; in the list of the tributaries to the Vatican (year 1308) the title of Santa Maria di Lognina can be found. In 1676 it was visited by the historian Giovanni Andrea Massa, who was ecstatic about the beauty of the temple.
The Madonna of the sea and of the seamen
After the earthquake in 1693 it was re-erected on the same site as the pre-existing basilica (maybe with a different orientation of the façade).
The simulacrum of the Virgin Mary , that was worshiped during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries , was destroyed by fire in 1885.
For a period of time a wax image of the Madonna Bambina (child Madonna) was exposed to the veneration of the believers. In 1889 the present wooden statue was realized.
On September the eighth the festival of the Madonna di Ognina is celebrated , it is known by the popular name of “a festa d’a Bambina” (the festival of the Child Mary).
This celebration , rooted in the oldest traditions , brings together a multitude of the devout and the curious who convene also from other parts of Sicily.
Traditionally the villagers used to buy a new suit or dress for this particular occasion. One of the most intensely suggestive moment is the procession of dressed , illuminated boats that escort the Madonna to sea , from the bay of Ognina to the Scogliera ( the black cliffs towards Acicastello).
Bunches of flowers are thrown into the water in honour of those who died at sea.
Upon its return the “Bammina” is welcomed by firework festival .Alongside the religious celebrations , pagan festivals take place : the oily fish festival and the boat race.
Fish is fried in the open air and sold for a symbolic price . The boat race sees men and women competing , one boat has a crew of five women and the other of five men. The challenge is won by the crew who will first pass the winning post.