La Madonna della Cività,
is the patron of Itri, whose annual feast day falls on July 21st.
Three kilometres inland from Itri passing through the Valle d’Itri, you come to Monte Cività, a place once devoted to the Roman God Mercury. Here, perched on high is the Sanctuary dedicated to “La Madonna della Cività”.
This houses the sacred painting of the Madonna and Child, which is said to have been painted by the St Luke the Evangelist, and to date back to the 8th century when the Byzantine Emperor Leo III ordered religious persecutions and outlawed sacred images. Legend says that this work of art was found by a young mute herdsman who was searching for a missing cow on the mountainside. On discovering the painting in the branches of a holm oak tree, the boy fell to his knees and prayed, and miraculously was able to hear and speak for the first time in his life. He went back to the town of Itri to tell people what had happened and the townsfolk were amazed to witness that the boy could now communicate.
So, in July people from all over South Lazio come to make a sacred pilgrimage on foot to the Sanctuary. Up here the mountain air is clean and fresh, and on a clear day the panoramic vistas are simply breathtaking. In one direction, there are views of dramatic mountain scenery, in another a splendid view of the Gulf of Gaeta, Ischia and the Pontine Islands, and finally the panoramic coastline sweeping round and culminating in the rocky promontory of San Felice Circeo.
In Itri itself, there are 3 days of local festivities, which include various religious processions. This was the first year that we have been able to witness the proceedings for ourselves.
The silver statue of the Madonna and Child, both bearing golden crowns adorned with precious stones, normally resides in a secure glass side chapel of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore. During the feast days this is transported on a golden throne throughout the streets of the town. Periodically the procession paused when suddenly there was a continuous five minute barrage of reverberating fireworks, in the form of huge rockets which soared into the sky emitting sparks, smoke and thunderous explosions and showers of paper confetti which rained down onto the streets below.
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