Saint of the Day – 14 February – Saint Antoninus of Sorrento OSB (c 555-625) Abbot, Hermit, miracle-worker – born in c 555 in Campagna, Italy and died in 625 in Sorrento, Naples of natural causes. Patronages – Campagna and Sorento. Also known as – Antoninus of Campagna, Antoninus Cacciottolo, Antony the Abbot, Antonino, Anthony of Sorrento.
Antoninus was born at Campagna. He left his native town to become a monk at Monte Cassino. During that time, Italy was suffering from barbarian invasions and Antoninus was forced to leave this Monastery. Monte Cassino had been plundered by the Lombards and the Monks escaped to Rome to seek protection from Pope Pelagius II. Antoninus, however, headed for Campagna where he ended up at Castellammare di Stabia. Here Saint Catellus was the Bishop. Catellus, wishing to become a hermit, gave up his office as Bishop and entrusted Antoninus with the task of serving as the town’s Bishop. Catellus withdrew to Monte Aureo.
The desire to remain a Hermit himself, led Antoninus to convince Catellus to return to his see. Antoninus retired to Monte Aureo himself and lived in a natural grotto. However, Catellus again decided to withdraw to this mountain and dedicate himself only sporadically to the cares of his Diocese.
An apparition of Saint Michael is said to have convinced the two to construct the stone Church now known as Monte San Angelo. Subsequently, Catellus was accused of witchcraft by a Priest named Tibeius (Tibeio) of Stabia and was held captive at Rome until the new Pope released him. Catellus returned to Stabia and dedicated himself to expanding the church that he had helped found.
Inhabitants of Sorrento, meanwhile, convinced Antoninus to settle at Sorrento. Antoninus became an Abbot of the Benedictine Monastery of San Agrippino, succeeding Boniface in this capacity.
A miracle attributed to Saint Antoninus states that he saved a young child from a whale after it had been swallowed up by this sea creature. The Sorrentini erected a Crypt and Basilica in honour of Antoninus. He saved the City from many dangers – a Moorish naval invasion; the revolt of the Sorrento leader Giovanni Grillo against Spanish domination; demonic possession; bubonic plague and cholera.
If you ask anyone from Sorrento what is celebrated on 14 February, do not be surprised at the answer! Forget Valentine’s Day, on this day all around the town of Sorrento, people celebrate the death of the Patron Saint of Sorrento, St Anthoninus Abbot, which occurred on the 14th of February, in 265.
Words are not enough to describe how much this local feast is truly felt! The celebration is preceded by a Novena beginning on 5 February with the tolling of Church bells, that advise the people of Sorrento, that the feast is soon to be and as a result, also the coming of spring.
On the eve of the feast, from the early morning hours, the prodigious silver statue of the Saint is exposed on the high altar of the Basilica of Sant’Antonino, ready to accommodate the flow of faithful who celebrate the entrance of the Saint to eternal life.
During the festival the statue is carried by sailors from Marina Piccola on their shoulders, throughout the main streets of Sorrento, by the Archbishop and by the civil and military authorities.
After the statue is brought around town, it is then carried to the Basilica where the Archbishop celebrates the Eucharist. The Basilica is indeed the true focus of the celebration, where locals come and “greet” the patron.
“Not inside, not outside the walls,” these were the last words of St Anthoninus about his burial and this explains the exact location of the Basilica which houses the mortal remains of the Saint, which is situated amongst the ancient town walls of Sorrento.
The most visited part of the Church is the Crypt, more commonly known as Succorpo, which houses the remains of St Anthoninus. It occupies the entire left side of the building and is placed at a lower level, accessible by two staircases.
Once down below in the Crypt, the first thing that attracts the eye is the Altar, placed at the centre of theCrypt, around which a path leads the devotees to pay homage to the Saint.
Behind the same Altar, an oil lamp with silver foil is touched and followed by reciting prayers. This is nothing more than a story of a miracle healing of a Bishop of Sorrento. The Bishop was riding a mule and then thrown off and, therefore, fractured his leg. During that night, the Bishop dreamed about Sain tAntoninus taking an oil vial that had been blessed by the the Virgin Mary. The Bishop woke up with a cured leg.
The silver statue itself was a miracle – it seems that during the invasion of the Turks (1558) it was stolen and Sorrento, not having enough money to make another, had to accept the fact of it’s loss. It was on that occasion, that St Anthoninus appeared in flesh and blood to the sculptor, who reproduced him from his own image!