St Sofia SanctuaryPrint Page Print this page


Photographs supplied by Sandra Brown

The sanctuary commemorates Saint Sophia, the patron saint of Sortino, Italy.

The configuration represents a part of a castle where Sofia was incarcerated by her own father-The governor of Constantinople. On the front there there are six circles assembled in the form of a triangle representing Sicily. On the upper section there are six merles to protect the fortress.

St Sofia Festival began when Pope Paul III proclaimed St Sofia patron saint of the hilltop town of Sortino in Sicily in 1538. St Sofia was born in the second century AD, daughter of the pagan Governor of Constantinople. Her mother died when she was very young and she was raised by a Christian nurse and was baptised a Christian. She escaped from her father’s control and came to Sortino in Sicily where she preached and performed miracles. Sofia’s father sent soldiers to capture her and bring her back to him. When they found her, the soldiers cut off the plait in her hair and threw it to the ground. Immediately water began to flow in the shape of a plait and today anyone can still enjoy a drink of this crystal clear water. The soldiers took Sofia back to Constantinople and, when she refused to relinquish her Christianity, her father beheaded her. Instead of blood; milk and honey flowed from her neck. Three years later her father became a Christian and built a church in honour of his daughter.

During the Second World War, when the allied forces invaded Sicily, it is said that a pilot had a vision of the Saint and the town of Sortino was spared from bombing.

The first Sortinese came to Koo Wee Rup early after the first world war. More Sortinesi came in the thirties and forties, with the bulk of the existing immigrants arriving in the fifties. Some 3,400 Sortinesi arrived in Melbourne during this time and around 60 families chose to settle in the Kooweerup swamp. Sortino is situated on a rocky hilltop with ground good only for goats and sheep. The rich soil of Kooweerup with no stones, and no steep roads proved irresistible to these new Australians. As Enzo Buccheri told us on Australia Day, they arrived with nothing in their suitcases, but with faith in their hearts and love for their Sofia. A group of dedicated people had the idea of forming a club and bringing the traditional St Sofia Festa to Australia. By the late sixties, enough money was raised with bingo nights, card games, bbqs, raffles and lots of good faith! A statue was commissioned; there was not a suitable place to erect a Sanctuary in Melbourne so Kooweerup, with its strong contingent of Sortinesi, was chosen. The St Sofia Sanctuary was established in St John’s Parish Kooweerup and the first St Sofia Festa was held on Sunday 28 October 1973.
Koo Wee Rup Blackfish
February 2013


Address:172 Station Street, St John the Baptist Primary School, Koo Wee Rup, 3981
GPS Coordinates:Lat: -38.197567
Long: 145.485016
Note: GPS Coordinates are approximate.
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Monument Type:Structure
Monument Theme:Culture
Designer:Professor Ernesto Murgo


Actual Monument Dedication Date:Sunday 28th October, 1973
Source: MA
Monument details supplied by Monument Australia - www.monumentaustralia.org.au