The pagan worship of the goddess Demeter and her daughter Kore was deeply rooted in Enna until the fifteen century. At the time, besides the Gentiles and the Catholics there were many Muslim families in Enna.
In 1412 the municipality sent a delegation to Venice to buy a statue that replaced the previous one of the goddess Demeter.
As they couldn’t find an effigy portraying the Madonna alone, they bought a wooden sculpture of Maria holding the baby Jesus and shipped it to Sicily by sea.
According to the legend, when the statue arrived at the slopes of Enna, it became so heavy that it was impossible to move it. Then, the wheat reapers came from the nearby fields and put the statue on their shoulders. With them it became light, and they took it to the cathedral. Ever since that time the simulacrum of the Madonna is carried in procession on a gilded litter only by those belonging to the peasantry. People call it ‘The Golden Ship’. The bearers are around one hundred and consider a great honor to carry the Virgin Mary in procession. The fixed, numbered places under the beams that support the litter are assigned to the descendants of the reapers who first brought the statue to Enna and are passed down from generation to generation; therefore it happens that tall and short brethren carry the litter side by side, with the result that some bear much weight and others less or almost nothing. For this reason the ‘Golden Ship’ proceeds with a slanting pace and sometimes gives the impression that it is about to fall on the crowd.
On July 2, the day of the feast, the crowned wooden sculpture of Our Lady covered with gold – rings, bracelets, necklaces, and so on, preceded by the statues of St. Joseph and St. Michael the Archangel, files between two lines of people.
According to some historians, the feast of July 2 is the same as the old one of Demeter. At that time three statues were also carried in procession. Therefore what matters is the religious feeling which does not depend on the different names you may give to the divinity.
Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
– Travels of the Mind