Nov 17, 2023 4:19 PM
Tradition and folklore
As its name suggests, the ancient village of Santa Caterina dello Ionio, in the province of Catanzaro, is inextricably linked to the figure of the saint of Egyptian origin, Caterina of Alexandria, who enjoys a particular form of veneration in this area.
Every year, on 25 November and in the weeks leading up to the festival, the town comes alive with a series of religious and convivial events that certainly deserve to be known.
The cult of Santa Caterina d'Alessandria on the Ionian Sea
The beloved patron saint of the Ionian town to which she gives her name, Santa Caterina d'Alessandria is the protagonist of a very special story that intertwines truth and legend in these places.
Born and died a martyr in Alexandria (c. 280-305), at the hands of Emperor Maxentius, who condemned her to the torture of the wheel (as can be deduced from the iconography), Santa Caterina is the subject of legends and popular traditions handed down mostly orally, such as the Calabrian one that links the sword (another iconographic element that characterises the saint) to the fight against the Saracen unbelievers who put the Mediterranean coasts to fire and sword.
Legend has it that on the verge of capitulating under the blows of pirates, Santa Caterina d'Alessandria appeared to the people with her sword drawn and drove them away. On the very spot of the miraculous apparition, the present church was erected in honour of the patron saint.
The village of Santa Caterina dello Ionio can boast the possession of one of its teeth, a precious relic of the saint, which is displayed to the faithful on the feast day, the so-called "tredicina", the 13 days of prayers and rituals preceding the fateful date, when the statue is carried in procession through the streets of the village.
On the occasion of the Feast of Santa Caterina d'Alessandria, the "Sagra del Cotto" is also organised, i.e. the pork declined in every way, from sausages to the much-appreciated "frìttole" (less noble and fatty parts) overcooked and combined with the tasty local young wine.
The festival takes place during the weeks of the "tredicina" at the folkloristic "catoj", the cellars dug into the rock underneath the dwellings that were once used as storage warehouses or shelters for livestock.
What to see and do in Santa Caterina dello Ionio
The village of Santa Caterina dello Ionio was founded following the Saracen raids that devastated the Ionian coast in the Middle Ages.
Of the original defensive structure with four entrance gates, only one, the Water Gate, is preserved today. A stroll through the alleys, small squares and panoramic belvederes allows you to appreciate the ancient layout of the town, rich in granite portals that embellish aristocratic palaces and churches.
Among the buildings worth visiting is the Mother Church, in Piazza Municipio, the seat of one of the confraternities that administer the various religious celebrations, reopened after years of restoration following a terrible fire that destroyed a considerable part of the works and architecture in the historic centre in 1983.
The churches of Santa Caterina dello Ionio are numerous and of various styles, mainly Baroque: San Pantaleone, Immacolata, del Rosario, della Neve and, of course, Santa Caterina.
In addition to the aristocratic palaces, it is worth visiting the Sant'Antonio Tower, a 13th century "cavallaro" (with rider) tower in the marina area.
The beach of Santa Caterina dello Ionio, almost entirely free and preserved in its natural state as a Mediterranean dune, is among the locations on the coast where Caretta Caretta turtles nest every year in summer.