Located at the southernmost point of Italy, Santa Maria de Finibus Terrae was, tradition claims, founded by St. Peter himself
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The basilica sanctuary of Santa Maria de Finibus Terrae (Latin for “the world’s end”) is a minor basilica and a sanctuary in Castrignano del Capo, located in the hamlet of Santa Maria di Leuca, at the southernmost point of the Italian peninsula – hence its name, Finibus Terrae.
The current church of Santa Maria de Finibus Terrae stands on the promontory where a pagan temple dedicated to Minerva once stood. Some claim the church was built directly on top of the remains of the ancient temple – very much like the Roman Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. An inscription found in the remains of an altar kept inside the church reads as follows:
“Ubi olim Minervae sacrificea offerebantur hodie oblationes Deiparae recipiuntur”
“Here, where sacrifices were once offered to Minerva, the Mother of God receives our gifts today.”
Tradition claims that Peter landed in Finibus Terrae as he was traveling from Palestine to Rome. A massive stone cross in the square right in front of the church stands as a reminder of the apostle’s arrival in Europe, and of his converting the local population to Christianity – hence the church being built on top of the temple.
In the early days, the church was dedicated to the Most Holy Savior, and became a bishopric as early as in the year 59. It was completely razed during the Diocletian Persecution. Tradition also claims that the church was home to a painting of the Virgin that was believed to be the work of St. Luke, which was destroyed during the persecution as well.
On August 1, 343, Pope Julius I consecrated a new church built on the ruins (and from the remains) of the first one, dedicated to Santa Maria dell’ Angelo. A marble plaque in the church reads:
“Julius hic primus celebrans, emmissa de coelo Indulta accepit. Kalendas, CCCXLIII dum Consecravit hoc templum”
“Julius I, celebrating here, received forgiveness from heaven on 1 August 343 while consecrating this temple.”
During his visit to the church in 1990, John Paul II made it a minor basilica.