The cult of Our Lady of the Chain begun in the year 1392 in Palermo, when King Martin I the Younger reigned in Sicily. Three men were unjustly convicted and on August 18th they were taken to Piazza Marina, where they were supposed to be hanged. Just as they were preparing the forks, a great storm broke out that forced the executioners to take refuge in the Church of Our Lady of the Port and the people fled from the storm. While waiting for the execution to be resumed, the three convicts were tied with double chains to the altar of the Virgin, but the storm continued for the whole day, and the guards had to spend the night in the church to watch them. The three wailed at the feet of Our Lady invoking her with the title of Virgin of Graces and began to beg her insistently, and suddenly, while the soldiers fell into a deep sleep, the chains that held the three broke and the voice of the Madonna reassured them “Go freely and do not be afraid of anything: the divine Child that I hold in my arms has already accepted your prayers and has granted you life!“. The chains fell quietly and the door swung open enabling the three innocents to leave the church while the guard slept. The guards woke up only at dawn. Eventually the soldiers had managed to capture back the fugitives but were stopped by the people who resorted to King Martin I intercession. When he went into the church, with his own eyes he saw the miracle: the chains were miraculously broken.
Immediately the echo of the miracle spread everywhere, and throngs of pilgrims reached the church that was now called “Chiesa della Catena” (Church of the Chain). The miracles multiplied and the Our Lady of the Chain (Madonna della Catena) became the patron saint of many municipalities of the island and venerated in many others, and her cult became known in all of southern Italy. Even today the church is a destination for pilgrimages and preserves the statue of Our Lady of the Chain.
In Sicily, Our Lady of the Chain is the patron of 10 municipality:
- Aci Catena
- Castiglione di Sicilia
- Castel di Tusa
- Fiumefreddo di Sicilia
- Mongiuffi Melia
- San Piero Patti