Darlene Foster's Blog

Madonna of the Letter and 236 Steps in Messina

Posted on: April 14, 2016

Have you ever been to Sicily? That island off Italy at the end of the boot. As a kid in school I was always fascinated by that part of the map. I was fortunate that our recent cruise made a stop at the port of Messina. We were greeted by a golden Madonna perched on top of a very tall column, as we entered the harbour. The words – “Vos et ipsam cictatem benedicimus” at the bottom made me curious. Although it rained heavily, I was not deterred and left the ship to explore. I was excited to be in Sicily.

Madonna of the Letter

My first stop was the Duomo de Capanile, the main cathedral in the city. It seemed like a good place to start, and to get out of the rain. The massive bronze front door embossed with biblical scenes was impressive. The vast central nave lined with marble pillars and archways, held alcoves with marble statues of the disciples and apostles. In an elaborate setting at the end was an image of the Madonna of the Letter, the patron saint of the city.

cathedral door

Impressive front door of the Messina Cathedral

scene on door


Apostles in the nave

I stopped in the gift shop to buy postcards and ask questions. The friendly shop keeper was happy to oblige a curious Canadian. She explained to me that the words under the Madonna at the entrance of the port translates into – “We bless you and the city” This was supposed to have been written in a letter to the people of Messina by the Virgin Mary when they converted to Christianity in 42 AD, after a visit from the apostle Paul. This explained why she is called Madonna della Lettera or Madonna of the Letter. I purchased a ticket to visit the museum and attached clock tower.

church and tower

Cathedral with clock tower

After a quick look through the museum, I ventured next door to climb the 236 steps to the top of the bell tower.  It was worth every step. The belfry houses the largest and most complex mechanical and astronomical clock in the world. On the landings I viewed, from the inside, the amazing mechanically animated bronze images that rotate on the façade of the tower at the stroke of noon. At the top levels hang the massive bells that ring out the time. I was fortunate I timed my visit between the ringing of the bells. Once at the top, I was rewarded with a splendid view of the city from all four directions. The rain stopped and the sun shone for my benefit.

clock tower bells

view from the top

The view from the top of the bell tower

I took my time going down, in order to have a better look at the intricate figures, aided by explanations on boards in English as well as Italian. The carousel of life was composed of four golden life size figures representing childhood, youth, maturity and old age, with death in the form of a skeleton following behind. Biblical scenes depicted on other carousels are changed according to the liturgical calendar. One scene was dedicated to the Madonna of the Letter where an angel brings the letter to the Virgin Mary followed by St. Paul and the ambassadors who bow when passing in front of the virgin.

carousel of life

The Carousal of Life

madonna carousel2

Madonna of the letter carousel

Madonna of the Letter Carousel

Once back down, I removed my raincoat and wandered the streets. I found an iron worker creating figures in front of his shop called Hollywood, interesting sculptures including an imposing conquistador, a quote from Shakespeare  and the picturesque Church of the Catalans built before Norman times on a pagan site. I stumbled upon an overgrown archaeological dig behind a municipal building which gave me a glimpse of life in Roman times.

Church of the catalans2

Church of the Catalans


Amazing carvings and sculptures everywhere you look


bard quote

Shakespeare mentions Messina in Much Ado About Nothing

I purchased a bag of Italian pasta, a great reminder of my enjoyable time in this Sicilian city. The shop keeper told me that Messina doesn’t have anything old as there have been so many earthquakes over the centuries and much had to be rebuilt. The last major earthquake was in 1908. I guess age is subjective.

As the ship left port later that day, I waved goodbye to The Madonna of the Letter with her comforting message sent to the citizens of this city two thousand years ago. A day to remember.

The pictures can be made bigger by clicking on them if you want a better view of the details.


36 Responses to "Madonna of the Letter and 236 Steps in Messina"

Your homein Spain gives you such a great launch pad for other European trips. Lucky you! Thanks for the armchair anthropology, once again, Darlene.

This was one of the reasons we decided to move here, so we could experience more of Europe without having to cross the ocean. Glad you enjoyed the trip. I know you love all things Italian.

Gorgeous pictures and interesting information, Darlene! Despite my frequent trips to Italy, I have never made it that far south (not yet, anyway). The most southern part for me was Rome. From what I heard and read, Sicily is quite different from the rest of Italy, almost its own country. The history is fascinating, too. You sure take some marvelous trips through Europe!

I haven’t been to Rome yet! I was quite pleased the ship stopped in Sicily as it has always fascinated me. It is quite different from mainland Italy, as islands often are. Apparently the southern part of Sicily is different from the northern part too. We are off to Holland next week. Another place on my wish list.

Holland. How wonderful. Isn’t it tulip season there?

Wow! Wow! That was a special stop in Sicily. I would have loved to have visited the Madonna of the Letter — the divine feminine looking over the city. Beautiful sculptures and architectures. Would not have been able to climb the tower. Such beautiful pictures. Have a great trip to Holland. I am green with envy. I’ll be in Phoenix at a spiritual retreat with many like-minded friends, and then to Siesta Key for my birthday.

Thanks Patricia. So pleased you enjoyed the post. It was a special stop. I am glad I was able to climb the stairs this time. Phoenix is one of my favourite places in the US and a perfect spot for a retreat. Have a lovely time in Siesta Key as well. Love the name.

Even though we have been to Italy several times we have not been to Sicily. What a fabulous taste of it in your post Darlene. I sometimes think one could spend a year in Italy ans still not have seen it all.

Many people have not been to Sicily it seems. I love going to places not often visited. Italy is so diverse, just like Spain. Living here we are able to explore these countries in more depth. But then one can say the same about Canada too!!

A fascinating tour

Thanks for stopping by Derrick. Pleased you enjoyed the tour.

So happy to partner you to Sicily ….seems like an interesting place visit .
You come all the way from Canada to visit Europe and I long to visit your homeland

It is always that way. Can you believe there are parts of Canada I haven’t visited yet. So much to see, so little time. Glad you enjoyed Sicily with me!!

That looks absolutely fantastic! I especially love the Carousel of Life: I’ve never seen anything like that before.
My youngest brother visited Sicily a couple of years ago and he too was very impressed with the city and advised me to visit. It is definitely on my list now. Thanks for sharing, Darlene! 👍

Yes, it was something to see. So many people stayed on the boat because of the rain. I wouldn´t have missed it for the world, plus the sun came out after awhile. I had never seen the inner workings of a clock tower like this and the carousel of life was incredible. Hope you make it there one day!!

Incredible. I have not been to Italy, but some day I will go. I’ve always wanted to see the place where my father served during the Second World War and trace some of his steps. He was left for dead on the battlefield there, and in the morning when they gathered the bodies, they found him breathing. A few months later, he was back at the front lines.

Thank you for sharing these wonderful photos.

I do hope you make it to Italy one day. What an incredible story about your dad. Where in Italy was he stationed? I am sure the place of the battlefield is probably marked. It would be very moving to visit it. My dad was always thankful that he did not have to fight in the war. The day he was conscripted, was the day the war ended.

He wasn’t exactly stationed. He arrived and they were constantly on the move, pushing back the German line. He was there when Rome was liberated. I hope to follow his route somewhat and visit the places he went and the cemeteries where the Canadians were buried.

Your dad was lucky. My dad enlisted in 1940, but I’m sure it wasn’t what he expected when he got overseas. The emotional scars were evident, as were the physical ones.

Absolutely beautiful!

Thanks for stopping by and commenting Patricia!

Just fabulous, Darlene. I could have spent hours. Thank you for sharing.
blessings ~ maxi

It was fun to wander around and discover things. I kept an eye on the clock though as I didn’t want to miss the boat!!

I love your description of the carousel. Amazing. I’ve been to Italy but not Messina! One day maybe.

The carousel was amazing and it was so nice that the descriptions were in English as well. It was all so well done.

Your commentary and pictures made me feel like I was there! It is a place I would love to visit!! Love the architecture and art…great post, Darlene!

Glad you travel virtually with me. I do hope you visit there one day as it an amazing place, influenced by so many cultures over the centuries.

How interesting. I’ve never been to Sicily but I saw it on TV just last night and thought I’d like to visit some day. Now that I’ve read your post and seen your photos I’m even more keen to go. I feel as if I’ve had a very tempting taster here, thank you for that. I love the architecture you’ve photographed and the atmosphere you’ve created with your words and pictures.

What serendipity! A show on TV and then my blog all enticing you to want to visit Sicily. I am glad I was able to visit even if for just one day. It is taking me so long to post about all the stops we made on that cruise.

Perhaps there’s a message being sent to me. 🙂 It’s nice to know you still have more posts in store from your cruise, you visited so many lovely places. One of the nice things about blogging is you can do it all at your own pace. I’m looking forward to seeing more of your trip anon.

What a view from the top! Good job on all those steps! Europe has magnificent architecture.

I can´t get enough of the architecture and history here in Europe! It´s like living in a novel.

What a great destination for a cruise. I have only been on one so far. I went to Alaska, but your post makes me want to go to Sicily.

This was a perfect cruise as it left from Barcelona, stopped in France, Genoa, Naples, where we visited Pompeii, Sicily and Malta. All places we wanted to see. We have been on two Alaska cruises as well. Thanks for following my blog.

Pompeii! Be still my heart! That is one of my most favorite places on earth!
I am glad I found your blog!

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