In the month of August in the Sicilian town of Messina the gigantic statues of Mata and Grifone dominate the citizens in a fascinating and particular procession. According to the legend, these two mythological characters are responsible for the foundation of the city of Messina, the ante litteram daughter of an interracial union. Mata, a beautiful Christian girl, and Grifone, a Saracen giant of Muslim religion, at first enemies, would then be united by an affection given by the esteem and the desire to make themselves better thanks to love.
There are many versions of the legend concerning these particular and mysterious characters. The most accepted and famous tells of a young Christian girl named Martha, Mata in dialect, and a cruel Saracen giant, head of an army and devoted to piracy. The events would have originated in 964 A.D., when Hassan Ibn-Hammar, real name Griffin, reached the city on the Strait with the ‘intent to place it under the domination of him. The giant reached Messina and settled between peloritane hills, where no one would have dared to pursue him. Strong of his hiding place, he devoted himself, then, raids and violence, instilling fear in the population and plundering and pillaging the surrounding territories. One day, however, during one of the raids him, he saw Mata in the crowd and fell in love immediately and so intensely obstinate in wanting to make her. The young girl, however, despite his shyness, his kindness and his charitable spirit, was far from being seduced or bend to the will of the Saracen, who despised for his tyranny and malice. The rejection of her courtship of her, then, produced the ‘effect of making it, if possible, even more ruthless, so that the harassment of her increasingly continued. Determined to rescue her daughter, Mata’s parents chose to transfer her secretly in one of their possessions. Griffin, however, was able to discover the hiding and decided to kidnap the girl, then led her to his headquarters in the hope of convincing her to give herself to him. The girl, on the contrary, found strength in prayer and vigorously rejected any attempt to approach her. Buckwheat realized that the ‘only way to win the heart of Mata was to become a man for whom she could have estimated. He gave up life as a thug and converted to Christianity, taking the name of Grifo, who became Grifone because of his size. He began to cultivate the land and to devote themselves to charitable gestures. Only in this way he was able to change the ‘opinion of the young, that began to look at him with different eyes, full of admiration and affection.
From their union, therefore, many children were born, to the point that the local tradition indicates Mata and Grifone as the ancestors of the inhabitants of Messina.