Maria Santissima della Cava (Our Lady of the Hollow/Cave) is the main patroness together with Saint Roche from the town of Pietraperzia.
It is remembered with greater devotion during the summer and celebrated on August 14 of each year, on the eve of the Assumption with a solemn night Mass presided generally by the bishop of the diocese of Piazza Armerina in the homonymous sanctuary located in the Cava district, about 4 km from the town center. On the evening of August 15, a historic palio is carried in procession through the streets of the town.
According to legend, a mute Trapanese had Our Lady in a dream, which indicated the exact point where he could dig and would find her image. The man from Trapani set off on his journey and arrived in Pietraperzia in the place where the sanctuary stands today, he dug and found the sacred icon and at the same time received as a reward of speech.
It is also said that in an attempt to bring the image back to Trapani, it fell several times from the cart making it clear that it is the will of Our Lady the image was to remain in that place, thus a chapel was built with a courtyard and rooms for the hermits called della Cava (of the Hollow) and only later a convent to house the Augustinian fathers. In reality, there are no reliable sources regarding its discovery, although probably this image was actually buried in order to preserve it from the VIII century AD iconoclasm.
The image consists of a mural or fresco, depicting Our Lady and the Child in the act of breastfeeding. The looks are turned towards the observer and both appear to be blessing. The Infant Jesus holds a crucigero globe, a typical iconographic element often attributed to the figure of the Christ child. It is located on the main altar of the Sanctuary, surrounded by a cypress wood throne, artistically carved and decorated in pure gold.
In the composition and representation, the painting retains clear references to a Byzantine iconography, even more evident results from the important and recent restoration to which the work was subjected in 2014. However, these works have highlighted how, probably, the general composition of the figures could be different; in fact, the repeated breaks and amateur remakes that have taken place over the centuries, could have compromised especially the lower left portion, where the arrangement of Our Lady’s limb appears completely unnatural.
The original chapel was in fact rebuilt and enlarged several times with French doors facing west. In 1687 the Augustinian fathers abandoned the sanctuary following the suppression of this order. During that year it was decided to take the image and transfer it to the inhabited center, to the church of the orphans’ prison (today Church of Maria Santissima del Soccorso, aka Carmine). When the litter carrying the painting came near Pietraperzia, it was overturned by the maddened mules, causing various fractures to the painted stone, also documented by the restorations. Once again this event was interpreted as a divine will, so the Sacred Image was recomposed in its original place.
In 1721 the expansion works of the Sanctuary were completed. In this period it obtained the title as Patroness of the city. These events are narrated and depicted in two frescoes, located in the chapel dedicated to the Madonna della Cava, at the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Pietraperzia, and the same are reproduced, but with plaster bas-reliefs, on the sides of the altar of the Sanctuary, works by Giuseppe Fantauzzo di Barrafranca (1851 – 1899).
The recent restoration has thus brought to light an image very different from that handed down over the centuries and transformed by multiple interventions.
The tradition is documented in the book by Friar Dionigi da Pietraperzia (1744 – 1801), a historian from Pietrino and a reformed minor from the Province of Val di Noto, published in 1776 and whose title is Critical-historical report of the prodigious invention of an image of Mary Most Holy, commonly called the Hollow of Pietraperzia (Cava di Pietraperzia). From his research, Dionigi deduces that the date of the finding is to be placed before 1222, having found a rescript of 1227 which shows that the district where the sanctuary stands today was already called in 1222 Madonna della Cava. It is therefore not known for sure whether the name Cava is due to the finding due to the excavations (therefore from cavata) or from the district which already bear the name of Feudo della Cava.
The church also contains other artistic assets including: a pedestal of a stoup with sculptures attributed to Antonello Gagini; two large canvases depicting the coronation of the Virgin of the Rosary (1716) and the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven (late 18th century); a pipe organ from 1845, built by the Gueli company from Caltanissetta.
The devotion by the Pietrini (pertaining to citizens of Pietraperzia) to the Madonna della Cava is considerable. From the month of May and throughout the summer, they often go to the Shrine on pilgrimage on foot, as a form of devotion or by grace received, and during which the Holy Rosary is recited, with formulas also in the Pietrino dialect. In addition, in May one may attend the characteristic Saturdays, pilgrimages organized by the Truckers and Tractor Drivers Associations, who leave from Pietraperzia with their own means of work and go to the Sanctuary involving the whole community;
Modern evolutions of the somehow waning Saturday of the Carters, where the same itinerary today follows the same means of work as of the time.
VIDEO PILGRIMAGE: (auto-subtitle in english is available)**
** To activate auto-subtitle in English – (click to play the video, then click the icon to activate the subtitle -> then click the “Impostazione” or Settings icon () -> after which click the option “Sottotitoli(1) (Subtitle) ” and then select the option “Traduzione automatico (Automatic translation)” and then choose the language you want, for es. “English”)
http://madonnadellacava.com/. (in english)