The Madonna della Cività is the patron of Itri. An ancient sanctuary, one of the oldest in Italy, bears her name. It is located inland, approximately 10 km from the centre of Itri, along a long winding road that leads its way through the Valle d’Itri into the Aurunci mountains, perched at a height of 670 metres on the peak of Monte Cività.
Up here the mountain air is clean and fresh, and on a clear day there are magnificent panoramic mountain views, whilst in one direction you can look down over Itri, the Gaeta peninsula and Ischia, in another you can see Fondi and its coastal lakes and the superb coastline that sweeps round and culminates in the rocky promontory of San Felice Circeo, and the Pontine archipelago.
Here there is a church decorated in a Baroque style, a quiet place of prayer and contemplation.
It houses the sacred icon, a painting of a black Madonna and Child, which is thought to have been painted by the St Luke the Evangelist, dating back to the 8th century when the Byzantine Emperor Leo III ordered religious persecutions and outlawed sacred images.
Legend has it that this work of art was lost at sea and then later 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.
This site became a venerated shrine and a Benedictine monastery, a destination of pilgrimage. The steady stream of pilgrims grew over the years and the sanctuary and its hostels grew accordingly.
In 1527 Itri found itself struck by the devasting Black Death. On the 21 July of that year many people gathered at the Sanctuary and a procession took place through the local towns and villages with the sacred icon carried aloft. The Madonna is said to have miraculously intervened to spare many from the terrible plague.
So each year on the 21 July approximately 500,000 people make a sacred pilgrimage to the Sanctuary, some still on foot.
On the outskirts of Itri in the Raino district there is a small shrine at the start of an ancient sheep track, a winding mountain trail that pilgrims have followed to reach the Sanctuary.
In Itri near Via Farnese there is also a shrine dedicated to the
Madonna della Cività.
The annual Feast of the Madonna della Cività
is held in Itri over three consecutive days, 20th, 21st, 22nd July.
All photos by me (except where stated)
© Louise Shapcott