MOUNT SAN BIAGIO
Mount San Biagio (in the Castello location) is the place where it was decided to build the great statue of Christ the Redeemer that would dominate the territory and the bay.
Mount San Biagio boasts an age-old, fascinating history. The site has always been indicated as a place of worship: tradition has it that in pagan times there was a temple dedicated to the goddess Minerva in the spot where now the Basilica stands.
The presence of Basilian monks in these places is documented during the first millennium of the Christian era. Starting from the sixth century AD, they had migrated from the East and had settled in various areas of Southern Italy.
But the event that makes it possible, most of all, to identify the religious vocation of this site is the arrival of the relics of San Biagio (St. Blaise): a legend relates that a boat carried them there during a stormy night of 732 AD, in order to save them from iconoclasm, which was raging in the East.
It is likely that the decision to house the relics of the Armenian martyr, who was to become the patron saint of Maratea, was justified by the presence, in that place, of a hermitage of monks who gave shelter to the seafarers and undertook to preserve the relics.
The religious function carried out by the site long ago was subsequently integrated, if not completely replaced, by a strategic and military function this was made necessary by the historical vicissitudes that hit Southern Italy with a great number of invasions and consequent dominations.
The Castello (Castle), name with which the location is best known to this day, took on the function of a small fortress presumably around the 13th century.
The strategic and military role of the Castello went on for about a thousand years, but is recorded only in a few documents, including one from the middle of the 18th century that mentions a fortification built to protect the relics of San Biagio, and also of San Macario, from the Turkish pirates’ raids and plunders.
The conclusion of this use of the location took place on a precise date, 10 December 1806, when the French besieged and conquered the fortress, destroying most of its walls and towers.
THE BASILICA OF SAN BIAGIO
The dawn of the Basilica of San Biagio dates back to the period between the 6th and 7th century.
The Basilica attained its present size as a result of extension works carried out probably in the 13th century, and the three-arch portico was added in the 18th century.
During the same century, the original appearance of the inside of the Basilica was changed with the addition of Baroque-style elements, bas-reliefs and altars.
Subsequent restoration works highlighted the simple, imposing lines of the nave and aisles.
Among other things, we should point out a 17th-century marble statue of San Biagio, in a niche at the centre of the tympanum, and a wrought-iron gate from the 15th century.
The little chapel where the relics of the Saint are preserved was commissioned in 1619 by Philip IV of Hapsburg, king of Spain and Naples, who also issued a decree in 1622 whereby it was declared to be a “royal chapel”.
The chapel, which was originally to the right of the nave, was disassembled in 1941 and reassembled in the presbytery. The same year, the church was raised to the rank of Papal Basilica.
BEFORE THE GREAT STATUE
In 1907, an iron cross had been installed on Mount San Biagio.The name of the person who designed it is unknown. It had to be replaced often, because it attracted lightning and was damaged by it.
In 1941, by initiative of Biagio Vitolo, podestà and subsequently mayor of Maratea, works began for the installation of a new cross made out of stone and cement, in place of the iron one.
The monumental cross, which dominated Maratea for more than twenty years, was meant to be a good omen for the speedy conclusion of the second world war, which was then under way, and for Italy’s victory. Later it became a memorial for the sacrifice of the fallen.
In 1965 the statue of Christ the Redeemer replaced the monumental cross, which was trasferred to the Belvedere in the Maratea valley.