S. Maria di Leuca had different names: Erodoto called it "Iapigio Promontory" because it was situated on the" Capo Iapigio "; Varrone “Uria”, in relation to its origins; Ovid called it “Sibari” because it was the first port that you can meet coming from Greece; and finally Horatio and Strabone called it "Leuca" because, according to the Homeric geography, it was situated to the west of Greece and it was illuminated by the sun.
The present name, S. Maria di Leuca, has different origins. Leuca derives from the Greek Leukòs that means white, a very frequent toponym in Orient since the island of S. Maura in the Ionian sea was called once Leucade. The reason of this adjective is uncertain. Maybe it was about the colour of houses or the effect of the sun which illuminated these lands early in the morning, especially for all those that coming from the East had the sun behind their shoulders, or the foam of the sea that created this whiteness.
The second part of the name has a Christian origin. The legend tells that in the same place where today is situated the Sanctuary a time there was a temple dedicated to the goddess Minerva, and that this temple was destroyed with the apparition of S. Peter that, coming from the East and bound for Rome to preach the word of God, disembarked precisely at this point of the Italic peninsula. A funerary stone of 43 A.D. at the entrance of the Sanctuary testifies this event and the passage from Paganism to Christianity, and a series of popular traditions of which one affirms that coming from Gagliano del Capo to the bifurcation for Leuca, close to a farm there is an ancient votive pillar on which there is the custom to deposit a stone to remember the visit to the Sanctuary.
According to the tradition S. Peter took a rest in this precise place before resuming his journey. Another legend handed down through many generations affirms that near Giuliano there is a well where the apostle would be stopped to drink.