The 61 shrines dedicated to her and present throughout the city are testimony to the great devotion of the people for Our Lady of Grace in Alcamo.
According to tradition, some ordinary women, including a blind and a deaf, while intent on washing clothes at the stream, saw a Woman appear with a Child and were hit by a flurry of stones that were moved during the apparition, without however suffering any injury or pain; on the contrary, after being hit by the stones, they felt a strange sense of well-being and recovered. After hearing this news, the husbands of the women, thinking it was a hoax, went to investigate the incident, thinking that there was someone hidden in the bushes around there, but they did not find anyone.
The local authorities then investigated the place, who cut down a nearby grove finding the ruins of the “cuba”, an ancient mill arch which had been lost for a long time, and inside a fresco on stone by an unknown painter of the thirteenth century, depicting the Madonna and Child Jesus, to whom the faithful initially gave the name “Madonna Fonte della Misericordia” – Our Lady, Fount of Mercy.
After this discovery, the people of Alghero began to pray in the presence of the found image and several miracles occurred in the following days.
Starting from 1547, the Madonna dei Miracoli – Our Lady of the Miracles, thus became the patron of the city of Alcamo, and of other neighboring municipalities. The recovered image of the Mary was initially given the name “Our Lady, Fount of Mercy”, but due to the high number of miracles that followed, in 1583 the name was changed to “Our Lady of the Miracles”.
Right on the site of the discovery, the Spanish nobleman Don Fernando de Celada y de Vega, at that time governor of Alcamo, decided to erect the sanctuary in honor of the patroness of the city.
The temple is a mixture of Baroque and Renaissance forms. The facade, in addition to two portals with fluted columns and Corinthian capitals, has a grandstand window flanked by two smaller windows carved by Innocenzo Arcodaci.
The interior is decorated with stuccos and on the vault there is a fresco of the glorification of the Madonna dei Miracoli. Of artistic significance are the paintings by the painter Giuseppe Pataria and the chapel dedicated to Maria Santissima dei Miracoli – Mary, Most Holy of the Miracles, with a red marble round arch. In 1557, in honor of the noble Fernando Vega, a sarcophagus of white marble with the figure lying was built by Rocco Rapi.
Every year in the city of Alcamo the celebrations in honor of the Our Lady of the Miracles recur from 19 to 21 June. This festival constitutes the major religious and folkloristic festival in the city of Alcamo. Often the actual celebrations are anticipated by other events, thus lengthening the party to about two weeks, so the start of the celebrations varies every year, while the final day always falls on June 21st.
The celebrations include:
The “bell of the sacred bronzes” which opens the celebrations together with the outbreak of firecrackers and the passage of the musical band through the streets of the city of Alcamo; in the past the band of Alcamo was also joined by the band of the city of Partinico.
The Holy Mass in honor of Our Lady of the Miracles in the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta (also called the “Mother Church”), in which all the brotherhoods and lay groups of the city of Alcamo participate.
The descent to the Sanctuary of the Madonna dei Miracoli (called “calata”), which is also attended by the civil and religious authorities of the city (including the mayor of Alcamo), preceded by the banner of the city of Alcamo. In ancient times, animals that had recovered from a disease were also brought to the sanctuary. Vespers and the Eucharistic blessing are performed inside the sanctuary.
Dance, music and theater shows.
Exhibitions of various kinds, including the “Craft Exhibition”.
“Market Fair” at Piazza della Repubblica.
Street artists festival, called “madonnari”.
The procession of the statue of the Madonna dei Miracoli through the city streets and return to the mother church. Before this solemn procession, the statue of the Madonna dei Miracoli, created in 1720 by Lorenzo Curti di Castelvetrano, is decorated with a silver star, a crown and a clasp embellished with precious stones (called “tuppu di la Maronna”) which is placed behind the neck of the image.
The statue is then brought out of the mother church, and is carried on the shoulders of the faithful through the streets of the city, accompanied by the musical band and at the end of the evening returns to the mother church.
Pyrotechnic games near the so-called “bastion” in Piazza Bagolino. They are held at the end of the party, immediately following the return of the image to the mother church, around midnight.
The traditional descent to the sanctuary is also staged during the so-called “Historical Procession” carried out with costumes of those times. This procession, which anticipates the actual “descent”, passes through Corso VI Aprile and Piazza Ciullo, and then ends at the Castle of the Counts of Modica. The procession also includes the workers of the “I Cavalieri di San Giorgio” association.
In the past, horse racing was also planned along Corso VI Aprile (and in recent years also in viale Italia), but this tradition (called “Palio di Alcamo”) was then interrupted following requests from animal welfare associations.