The Sanctuary of the Madonna della Cività in Itri
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 meandering road that winds its way through the Valle d’Itri into the Aurunci Mountains. The Sanctuary stands at a height of 670 metres on the peak of Monte Fusco.
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 direction 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 Islands.
The Legend of the Holy Painting
The Sanctuary houses the sacred painting of the Madonna and Child, which is said to have been painted by 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 astounded 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 devastating 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 thousands of 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 track, a winding mountain trail that pilgrims have followed to reach the Sanctuary.
In Itri along the Via Farnese there is also a shrine dedicated to the Madonna della Cività.