The feast of the sanctuary is celebrated on June 12 which corresponds to the town festival known as the “Dove” (Ital. Colomba), in memory of a miraculous dove. In the sanctuary there are some relics of Saint Alfonso Maria de Liguori and Redemptorist saints, as well as a letter of Saint Ignatius of Loyola dated 1550. The National Prize of Religious Poetry Madonna di Montalto is held here.
The Sanctuary stands on a hill overlooking the city and the port of Messina. The origin of the Christian shrine is linked to the war of the “Sicilian Vespri”, which broke out in Palermo on March 31, 1282, Easter Monday.
In Messina, the revolt broke out on April 28 and the population, in desperation, resorted to the intercession of the Virgin Mary. In the night between 8 and 9 August a Lady dressed in white was seen covering the most vulnerable points of the walls with veils … and for this reason the city was saved. In early June 1294, the Virgin indicated the place where she wanted the sanctuary dedicated to her to be built: a dove was seen flying over the place and marking the boundaries of the church itself.
The work on the sanctuary ended in 1295 and was entrusted to the Cistercian nuns. Several times, over the centuries, the Mary made her particular presence and protection felt over the city: in moments of strife, epidemics and earthquakes, the terrible and devastating one of 1908, that saw Queen Elena of Savoy, intrepid rescuer of the earthquake victims, provoked the destruction of the temple, but which was quickly rebuilt between 1910 and 1911. It was enlarged between 1928 and 1930. From 1946 the sanctuary belongs to the Redemptorist Fathers, founded by Saint Alfonso Maria de Liguori.
On January 1, 1950 the icon was solemnly crowned and the diocese was entrusted to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Sanctuary, in reinforced concrete and solid bricks, recalls that of 1295, in Romanesque-Gothic style, with a facade flanked by two twin bell towers designed by the architects Valenti and Barbaro.
Inside the sanctuary we find a Byzantine icon that reproduces, on a table, a seated Madonna offering the faithful the Child Jesus, standing on his knees, as the only Savior. In the seventeenth century the icon was covered with a silver mantle finely chiseled by the school of Pietro Juvara. Pope St. John Paul II, on his visit to the Messina sanctuary in 1988, donated a filigree silver crown for this Lady. The wooden temple roof is decorated by Gregoretti of Palermo; while the floor, in polychrome marble, is by Diletti di Messina from 1984.
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Sito Ufficiale del Santuario – https://www.santuariomontalto.it/index.php