St Devota healing oil
St Devota, a young Christian girl, was martyred under the reign of the emperor Diocletian in 304, by the consul Barbarus, who then governed Corsica. The boat that was to transport her body to Africa, guided by a dove in the storm, ran aground on the beach of the Gaumates valley at the bottom of the port of Monaco. Her body was buried in the little chapel next to a stream.
Around the year 1070, due to the numerous miracles attributed to the Saint, the precious relics were stolen by sailors with the intention of negotiating their blessing. These sailors had thought they could flee unencumbered, but a contrary wind rose and prevented them from leaving the harbour. They were captured and the relics recovered, and the thieves’ boat was burned on the beach as a sacrifice of atonement.
That is the origin of this tradition of the burning of the boat. Towards the end of the sixteenth century, when Saint Devota became the most venerated Saint and protector of the Princely family and the Monegasques, there were bonfires, but a boat was never burnt. This late tradition was initiated around 1860, but it was on Saturday, 26 January, 1924, that Prince Louis II solemnly consecrated the tradition by lighting the pyre of the boat himself.
It is said that the nails of the boat, which can be collected in the ashes, bring happiness. As a result, it is not uncommon, at the end of the commemoration ceremony, to see children jostling to find the precious nails.
Tradition of oils
The tradition of anointing with sacred oil is very old indeed. It is used in sacraments and also as a devotional practice. The sick person applies the oil and blesses themselves. As they do so, they are asked to pray to whomever the oil is dedicated to. The Irish blessings oils do not have miraculous power. It is God who has the power to heal. Applying the oil while praying are important ways for us to express our faith in God’s power. Moreover, by doing so we place our trust in God.