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Vernazza:
The African
The Black Madonna

The incredibly picturesque Vernazza is the second village along the famous Cinque Terre hiking route in the Region Liguria, Province La Spezia. The Madonna resides in the 11th century Sanctuary of Our Lady of Regio also known as the Sanctuary of the African Madonna, a 30-45minutes hike above Vernazza. Open only Sunday afternoons during mass.

photo: Hilofoz. Black Madonna in the local Belforte castle. Looks like a cheap garden Madonna painted black in recognition of the real Black Madonna in the church of which no photo is available.

This “African” Madonna is an important reminder of the racial issues connected with Black Madonnas. (More in the introduction.) Her town was founded around the year 1000 by freed former slaves of the old Roman family ‘Gens Vulnetia’ (from whence the name Vernazza derived). Did they give their former slaves this Black Madonna, which was supposedly brought back from the Holy Land by Crusaders? Or better yet, did the Black Madonna ask for the slaves to be freed? Who knows.

The 11th century church, of which only the Romanesque façade remains, was built on top of the crypt of an even older church. A festival dedicated to the African is celebrated on the first Sunday in August.

To get to this church you hike up a steep trail to the North of Vernazza near the graveyard. It is a “way of the cross” with sculpted “stations of the cross” that invite the faithful to stop repeatedly and meditate on the suffering of Christ.

The area around the sanctuary has a spring, picknic grounds, and ancient trees, but no business selling anything. So you have to bring your own provisions.


photo: David