“The Sanctuary of the Madonna della Civita in the territory of Itri, of the Archdiocese of Gaeta, is the oldest Marian temple in the world consecrated to the Immaculate Virgin“, says father Antonio Rungi, Passionist theologian, vice-superior of the Passionist community of the Shrine, already superior provincial. “The first consecration of the Sanctuary, says Father Rungi – dates back to Pentecost Monday in June 1491. It was Monsignor Francesco Patrizi, bishop of Gaeta, to consecrate the place of worship, dedicated for some time to the Holy and Immaculate Virgin Mary, where the faithful he came to pray to the Holy Mother of God. The close relationship of this sanctuary with the dogma of the Immaculate Conception is subsequently confirmed by historical facts of great importance for this place.
It is dated 10 February 1849 with the visit to the Sanctuary of the Civita of Pope Pius IX, exiled to Gaeta, which according to historians was the occasion to confirm his intention to proclaim the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, which took place in 1854. At a distance of 140 years, on June 29, 1989, from this historical event, it was St. Pope John Paul II turn to reach the Sanctuary of the Civita, on the occasion of his pastoral visit in the archdiocese of Gaeta, to meet in particular the sick.
In a brief historical summary of the Sanctuary, the popular oral tradition narrates that the sacred image was found by a deaf-mute shepherd while he was looking for a cow dispersed in the woods of Mount Civita. Between the branches of a “holm-oak tree, the kneeling cow and the shepherd who rediscovers the use of hearing and speech”, with these words Civitanova’s history and devotion begins. Its origins and how it has come down to us is a mystery; in a place so impervious. It is part of the popular tradition. The origin of the painting itself goes back to the iconoclastic persecutions of Constantinople ordered by Emperor Leone Isaurico, around the 8th century AD; while the first historical document dates back to 1147. The establishment of the annual festival of July 21 started in the year 1527 when the Virgin of the Civita freed from the plague all the inhabitants of the surrounding area. The first coronation of the sacred image is dated July 21, 1777, during the episcopate of Msgr. Carlo Pergamo. Currently the sanctuary of the Civita, since 1985 is under the care by the Passionist Fathers of Lower Lazio and Campania.