The Blessing of the Fishing Fleet is a well-established religious and civic tradition in the City of Fremantle. It is a reminder of the religious traditions of the Italian people, especially those from Molfetta and Capo d’Orlando.
Molfetta – on the south-east coast of Italy- is a sea port facing the Adriatic Sea. It has a large population of fishermen and is a very busy port. The people of Molfetta are very devoted to their patroness, Our Lady of Martyrs. The history of the devotion goes back to the twelfth century when Molfetta was a receiving depot or hospital where many wounded crusaders were brought from the holy war being fought in Palestine by the Christian crusaders. They brought with them paintings of the Madonna and child and told of the protection crusaders received on the battlefield when carrying the pictures.
On September 8th, 1948 the first Festival and procession was held with the help of the religious and civil authorities. At that time an icon was carried in procession because the statue had not been acquired.
The Statue of Our Lady of Martyrs was crafted locally by Con Samson of Subiaco, and was paraded through the streets of Fremantle to the Fishing Boat Harbour, for the first time in 1950, and then taken out to sea aboard the fishing boat “Invincible” and the Fishing Fleet was blessed by Fr P. Abramo O.M.I.
In 1952 the people of Capo d’Orlando, a town on the north-east coast of Sicily, gave the tiny statue of the Madonna of Capo d’Orlando to their fellow Sicilians in Fremantle. They were able to have the added protection of their own Patroness, especially as many miracles had been attributed to her. In 1954 the Madonna di Capo d’Orlando joined the Madonna dei Martiri in procession. Whilst the Madonna dei Martiri is carried by the men, the Madonna di Capo d’Orlando is carried by young women.
The Fremantle Festival is unique because the two statues which are carried in the procession are representative of the two towns from which the majority of our fishermen migrated. These two statues are housed in the Marian Chapel in the Basilica of St Patrick in Fremantle.