Praise be to Madonna

La Madonna dei Martiri, 1967

The beautifully painted 1.2-metre statue is a replica of the original statue of the Madonna, which is in Molfetta, Italy. The wood-carved statue is painted in shades of deep red and blue. She is adorned by a red cloak lovingly hand-stitched with 9 carat gold thread. She wears a crown embellished with coloured beads, a crucifix on a silver chain around her neck, and several pairs of rosary beads hanging from her hands and arms. The Madonna is holding a figure of the baby Jesus in her arms, with two angels behind her on either side holding up the red cloak.

In 1963, a group of Tuncurry fishermen decided they wanted to replicate the traditional Blessing of the Fleet ceremony of their homeland. The blessing in Molfetta, Italy, is a week-long festival of singing, dancing, and procession of the patron saint Madonna Dei Martiri.

In the early years of their celebration, the fishermen carried a simple portrait of the Madonna, framed and decorated with flowers, down to the Tuncurry waterfront and onto a launch. The parish priest then blessed the decorated fishing fleet gathered in the Tuncurry channel. As interest grew, funds were raised to commission the statue, which became the centerpiece of the Tuncurry ceremony. It was made in Italy. Small details added to the statue over the years, including a red cloak hand-stitched with 9 carat gold thread, demonstrate the way in which Tuncurry’s Italian community and fishing fraternity invested in the blessing ceremony to protect the lives and prosperity of local fishermen.

Later, the Blessing of the Fleet became part of the Annual Oyster Festival. In 2016, the final blessing ceremony was held, reflecting a depleted fishing fleet and diminishing community interest. The statue’s final journey was to the local museum in 2018.


What inspired the Blessing of the Fleet Festival in Tuncurry?

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