Translated, Madonna del Lume is Mother of Light being Jesus.
In 1732, a local fisherman named Vincenzo Giangrasso, along with other fishermen from Porticello, Sicily, were caught in a fierce storm. The sky was black from dark clouds. The fishermen saw a light and began heading for it. After landing their boat, they followed the light into a cave near the beach of Santa Nicolicchia.
In the cave, they found a slate with the image of the Madonna del Lume. They picked up the image and returned it to town. The next day, the Madonna mysteriously returned to the cave.
The fishermen vowed to build a church in honor of the Madonna. The town went to the Princess of Solanto Castle to ask for permission to build their church.
Eventually a festival honoring the Madonna de Lume grew from this story becoming a central ingredient in the identity of the town.
In the 1930's, fishermen and their families brought the Madonna with them as they immigrated to the United States. With the Madonna they broght their dreams, tradition and hopes that Our Lady would guide them as they started their new lives. Societies were started in Boston, Milwaukee and San Francisco.
In 1937, the Madonna del Lume Society was founded at St. Joseph's Cathedral in San Diego. Later it was moved to Our Lady of the Rosary Church where it is currently based.
More families came after World War II and the society grew.
In Porticello, the festa is celebrated on the first Sunday of October with fireworks before and after mass. Descendants of those original fishermen bring the Madonna from the church altar to the vara. The vara is led through the streets in a religious procession as people offer gifts as promises for their devotion. The parade ends with a blessing of the fishing boats at the waterfront.
In San Diego, the festa is celebrated on the third Sunday in October. A replica of the Madonna is placed on the vara with a model of a fishing boat and decorated with flowers. A procession through the streets of Little Italy and to the waterfront ends with a blessing of fishing boats and US Navy ships. Prayers ask the Madonna for good catches and protection for fisherman and all sailors.
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