The 9 km long ascent to the Santuario del Sacro Monte (the sanctuary of
the sacred mountain) is celebrated on the 1st Sunday in May with a great
procession on foot. The descent to the Basilica Santa Maria del Deposito
in Viggiano happens on the 1st Sunday in September. Both days are honored
with great festivals, but the ascent is the greater feast, attracting many
thousands of pilgrims.
|Here we have yet another formerly Black
Madonna who has been restored to her original pigmentation. At least
she is still brown.
Her story goes back to the 6th century when the city of Basilicata
was still known by its Roman name: Grumentum. This town lay in a fertile
valley surrounded by mountains and possessed a cathedral dedicated
to St. Mary of the Assumption. It is believed that the original bust
of a Dark Madonna was sculpted around 500 A.D. in order to be venerated
in that cathedral and under that title.
During the Muslim invasions of the 8th and 9th centuries Grumentum
was completely destroyed. The few Christians who survived took refuge
in the nearby mountains, taking their beloved Black Madonna with them.
Realizing that she would be safest if hidden in the earth for a while,
they wrapped her in a shroud and laid her in a shallow pit in a cave.
Well, a while had to turn into 2-3 centuries under Muslim rule and
by the end of it the image had been forgotten.
It took some help from Heaven to find her again. Assistance came in
the 11th century when the area was back under Christian rule. Soon
after it was safe once more to venerate an image of Mary, some villagers
from Viggiano saw mysterious blue flames flickering again and again
up on their mountain. When they went to investigate the area where
the light had appeared, they realized that it had come from a cave.
Probing, they found the magnificent wooden bust, undamaged by its
many years abandonment to the care of the earth. Overjoyed by such
a gift from God, they brought it home to their village church and
called it “Santa Maria del Deposito”. 11th century records
lready attest to the great devotion of the local population to their
divine Mother in her mountain abode.
Interestingly enough there apparently is no legend explaining why
a chapel was built in the place of her hiding and finding - the sanctuary
where she spends the summers. Normally at this point Black Madonna
legends would launch into an account of how the statue miraculously
returned to her place in nature until people understood that she wanted
a shrine there. But in this case people simply state that popular
devotion demanded a commemorative church on the spot of the heavenly
As in Vassivière, France and Monte
Vergine, Italy, so here too the Black Madonna spends the summers
up on the mountain and the winters down in the village, following
the rhythm of mountain folk who move their cattle up the mountains
in the summer and come back down with them in the fall. Black Madonnas
accompanying them in this, shows again how connected the Dark Mothers
are to the earth. (More on that in the introduction under “Mother
Earth, Pagan Goddesses, and Black Madonnas”)
In the 17th century the area was ruled by Spanish nobility who turned
the statue into a full bodied Madonna and Child, modeled after their Black
Madonna of Montserrat. It was they who gave
her that look of a Spanish Baroque Queen. Dressed all in gold, the sacred
image represents the “Great Mother of God”, says Father Mario
The Queen of Lucania was solemnly crowned in 1890 by authority of Pope
Leon XIII. 75 years later Pope Paul VI proclaimed her Patron and Queen
of Lucania, acknowledging himself that he just put the Papal stamp of
recognition on what she had already long been to the people.