San Severo


In her church in the center of the town of San Severo, province Foggia, region Puglia, around 1564, received a baroque make-over in 1760.

the Madonna of Succor
(Madonna del Soccorso) 
patron of the city and the diocese

In 1564 the order of Augustinian monks brought this Black Madonna to San Severo from Sicily. Nobody knows how old she was at that point. The monks promoted the cult of the Black Madonna, because they had seen how beneficial it was in other parts of Italy, as well as in Spain. They had a special devotion to her ever since the famous Black Madonna of Chipiona, Spain was said to have been sculpted by St. Augustine himself at the command of an angel.

When the Augustinian monastery was dissolved in 1652 the care of the sanctuary was transferred into the hands of a fraternity who has been keeping the devotion to the Madonna of Succor alive ever since.

Taking the place of the ancient Great Earth Mothers, she is considered the protector of fields and crops and holds a bouquet of wheat, grapes, and olives in her right hand. She was invoked and carried around town in procession whenever the crops were endangered by drought, storms, or pests, or when other dangers loomed. E.g. she was credited with maintaining peace when the French Revolution threatened to spill into Italy.

My interpretation of the striking difference between the black mother and the white child is given on the Foggia page. The original baby Jesus was replaced by the present one during the baroque make over in 1760. We don't actually know what color the original Jesus was. I wouldn't doubt that it too was white, since the older Augustinian Black Madonna of Chipiona, after which this one seems modeled, also holds a white Baby Jesus.

This Dark Mother was solemnly crowned in 1937. Like many of Mary's crowns, this one too is topped with a dove, the symbol of the Holy Spirit, her spouse.

A great two day festival, the Festa del Soccorso, is held each 3rd Sunday and the following Monday in May in honor of this Black Madonna and the other two patron saints of the city. There are processions and festive masses. The Madonna is elaborately decorated and enthroned in the cathedral. Then there are games and incredibly loud salves of gun fire, fire works, and fire crackers. The noise is an amplification of ancient ways of exorcising evil and celebrating life. Neither the Church nor the civil authorities are pleased with it, but the people have fought consistently to uphold this tradition.(*1)


*1: All information taken from the ariticle on the "Festa del Soccorso"