The Madonna story
The Madonna effigy they found in 1621
What devotees do at this Madonna feast
The Madonna story of Genzano
Welcome to our article (17), the Madonna of Genzano story.
Dear readers, here we are writing my life story, and about of my native town of Genzano di Lucania, in these articles we will include the Madonna of Genzano story, since this is part of the history of Genzano.
Anyhow, since we are talking about Genzano di Lucania and its history, for this reason here-under are two or three links that are a must see for those people that come from Genzano town and also everyone else: I hope they work, as they brink up more interesting other links to see.
Now, as you know, in our last article called, the heritage chapter, we have explained that indeed in Genzano di Lucania a long time ago there were Greek people living in one of the chasms, since even today one of the chasms is called the Greek chasm. Anyhow, I would like to go back in time and talk about the Greek people; because, there are reasons to believe that this Madonna story that we are writing here would not exist if the Greek people were not there, because it could not have happened; but it did happen because of what they did a long time ago. You see, before those Greek people left the chasm for the last time, they did something that has made history in this town of Genzano. But since there is no written history, we must assume many things.
So, we have to assume all this imaginary story because of the evidence that follows, you see, when we look at this evidence it seems that the Greek people were forced to move away from their living place in the chasm, and when they did they hid their Madonna effigy at the lower end of the chasm. Why they hid this Madonna effigy we are not sure, but they did.
Anyhow, here we are telling about the Greek people of the early Christian community that lived in the chasm of Genzano; we have to admit again that there is no real written evidence left and what we are telling here is mostly folklore stories and some logic human explanations when we put together what is known today.
Anyhow, what follows here is mostly guess work, because nobody knows for sure what happened to the Greek people, it is known that they were there in the chasm and then they were not there anymore, but the facts are not known, and today it is not important to know what happened to them, since in this article we want only to tell you the story of the Greek Madonna effigy that is going to follow here-under. But it seems that the Greek people were persecuted and had to run away, and when they left, they had to hide away their most precious religious things. So, they left behind buried in a secret spot in a little-known cave, an effigy of a Madonna, which was to be found much later by the people of Genzano di Lucania.
How they came about to find this Madonna icon later on just about everybody in Genzano seems to know some of this story, because it is a story that has been told from generation to generation, since they found this Madonna, so, just about everybody in Genzano could tell you their own version easily. Therefore, I had only to find a few names and a few dates to write my own version down, which I want to tell you now.
The Madonna statue of Genzano
Telling the Madonna story
One day in the year of our Lord 1619 there was this fourteen years old youth grazing some oxen in the fields of Genzano, in the zone that we call Strippara; his parents were of a good and honourable family, the youth name was; Pietro di Giovanni Filippo, and he happened to mind some oxen in the fields when this event happened. It seems to me that he was at the very beginning of the chasm called ‘Del Monte’. So, while he was browsing his oxen there; a Lady all dressed in white appeared to him; and she told him that he should go and tell the people of Genzano that, they should go into the chasm near the fountain of Capo d’aqua, and dig in the cave that was once known as the vineyard of ‘Don Fabio’ and they would find her image there.
The youth went to town and told the people and the priest of the apparition of this great Lady, but they were not sure whether to believe him or not; so, nothing was done. But after a few days or a week or two, the Lady in white appeared to the youth again; but this time she asked the youth to open his hand, and she wrote in his hand a message to the priest, she closed the youth hand and told him to go to the priest and show him that writing. The youth now with his closed fist that he could not or would not open for fear ran into the town and found the priest, and told him about the second apparition of the Lady in white, and that the Lady had written on his hand in his closed fist something; the priest took his hand to see and there in front of the priest he could open his hand again; and in his hand the priest could see the message which read (I am Maria Santissima Delle Grazie, and come to find me).
So, now the priest had no doubt in his mind from where that message was coming from, and he assembled the people of Genzano and told them the facts. A search was organized, and they dug in and around the said cave for a very long time, and not knowing exactly where else to dig, they also dug farther up the mountain, where they found some human remains and other object as evidence that over there, a long time ago some eremites had been living there.
The search went on for about two years. So, they thought that there was not a real Madonna image to be found, because the only image of a Madonna that they had found there, it was a Madonna traced over the sand which was slowly disappearing. And thinking that this was all they would find, they decided to give up the search, but at the same time they wanted to build a small chapel in honour of this Madonna. But while they were digging the foundation for this chapel, a whole heap of very hard rock fell from the chasm’s wall above, which showed them that there was a smaller cave near the old cave higher up in the chasm’s wall, and in this small cave they found a few religious items, including a small image of St. Peter on a brick, but there was no Madonna image or large icon to be found.
The small Madonna chapel below where they found the effigy
The Madonna is found
So, they decided to remove the fallen rocks and sort them out, so that they could use those rocks when they build the chapel. And then the following happened; it happened the 25th day of March 1621 late in the afternoon, it was about the time when in the church they say this afternoon prayer called Vespers, at this time of the day most people that are in the country pack up to go home. But there was a worker working at the fallen stone heap, and although he was tired he felt that he wanted to do just a little bit more, so, he kept working a bit more: His name was ‘Giovanni Malatesta’ and he was digging with a pick to get the stones loose from the fallen heap of rocks, when he hit a very hard rock, and a beautiful aroma filled the air: he had struck with his pick the sculpture of the ‘Madonna with Child’. What a shock to this man must have been, when he realised that he struck with his pick the icon of the Madonna over the eye. They say that he never was the same man again, and he died early in his life not long after this event took place.
As soon as they realised that they had found the Madonna, somebody ran up the road to town, to let the people of Genzano know that they had finely found the Madonna icon, and the good news spread fast, and most of the town’s folks went to see for themselves, even though it was evening and it soon would be dark.
The whole town was in feast for a very long time afterward.
All the religious authorities were in due time advised about the finding of the Madonna icon, and they took part in the prescribed religious events that followed. A Chapel was built on the spot where they had found the Madonna, with the intention that one day they would build a church there. After they found the icon of the Madonna with Child many people came to adore this Madonna, they came from the surrounding towns and from far away towns and they received so many miracles from this Madonna that would be hard to count them. Of course, today’s people don’t believe in miracles and therefore they will not believe what we are saying here, but this is the Madonna folklore story that goes around Genzano town even these days.
Porta di Santo Antonio
Taking the Madonna to town
But there is another story to tell about this Madonna of Genzano, this story is not how normal things happen, therefore today many people may not believe it, but then we have to think that here we are talking about Madonnas and therefore also miracles, we have to keep in mind that the old people believed that it really happened the way that they have been told, so, let us tell you the story, the way it has been told and retold many times from the elders of the town.
The story of this Madonna tells us, that while they were taking the Madonna effigy they had found to town, to the church of Maria SS Della Platea, which was the main church of Genzano then, when they reached the entrance of the town; as you know in those times every town had their entrance doors that were shut at night to guard against thieves and assaults from outside; anyhow, when they reached the entrance of the town the Madonna effigy became heavy, it was so heavy that the bears had to stop and set the devise they were carrying the Madonna with on the ground.
Then when they tried to lift her off the ground they could not lift her; so, the priest and the town authorities started to think, why this was happening and what they could do to fix this unseen problem, some wise man started saying that perhaps the Madonna wanted to be recognized that she was a powerful spiritual being, and to recognize her the best thing to do was to give her the keys of the town and hope that this was what the Madonna wanted, so, somebody went to fetch the keys and placed the keys beside her effigy, and soon the effigy became light again and they were able to take her through the entrance of the town and then into the church. This is one of the folklore stories of this Madonna; now it is up to us, if we want to believe it or not; some of us today think that the priest or the authorities tricked the people to believe all this, and here again is up to us to believe whatever we want to believe.
We need to say that believer believe almost any religious thing that are being told; I am saying this because of the following event, I remember when I was young that at this same entrance where the Madonna came into Genzano town the first time; there were times when some peregrines would come to adore this Madonna with child, and they were bringing with them a little statue of a child, I don’t know exactly what all this meant, but there is a phrase in the Genzanese dialect “U bambnid d Frenz” meaning the little baby Jesus of Forenza; Forenza is a town that take several hours of walking to reach Genzano, and those peregrines did all this walking to come and adore this Madonna in Genzano, there were really religious believers in those old days.
Festivities of the Madonna of Genzano di Lucania
The Madonna feast fancy lighting
The orchestra stand for the festivities of our Madonna at Genzano
The church of the Madonna
Building the Madonna church
A few years after they found the Madonna icon at Capodaqua, somebody dreamed that the Madonna wanted a church of her own, built on a hill called ‘Montefreddo’. When the dreamer dreamed that the Madonna wanted her church built, that night it was snowing, but in the morning the snow had melted away everywhere except where the dreamer had dreamed that the Madonna wanted her church built. The dreamer told her dream to the people of Genzano, which then they understood and took notice of the strange event of the snow. Therefore, it was decided that the new church had to be built where that large patch of snow was left. And this is the reason why the church of this Madonna with child was built on this hill called, Montefreddo.
With the building of the Madonna church many more devotees came to adore this Madonna, and they prayed to her for graces and miracles; and many graces and miracles they received in return, so, this Madonna sanctuary grew and became well known all around the country for a few centuries.
Today, although this Madonna church has been damaged badly twice by earthquake and once by fire, it has been rebuilt and restored and it is still very popular, but not quite as much as it used to be, I suppose it is the sign of the times, because people nowadays don’t believe in religion as much as they used to do in the old times, when they found this Madonna.
Anyhow, in the town of Genzano of nowadays, we still celebrate a great feast for this Madonna, the yearly festivity for this Madonna are held for three days the first weekend in August. We will come back to tell you about these festivities later; because now I want to tell you what else the people of Genzano did after they found the Madonna Icon at Capo D’aqua.
Capo D'daqua fountain
Madonna chapel and fountain
The Madonna chapel and Capo D'aqua fountain
Let us go back at the site where they found the Madonna Icon and what the people of Genzano did soon after they found this Madonna; as we have said they were going to build a chapel, and they did built the chapel; but at the same time they built a larger fountain, because when they were digging to find the Madonna icon, they also found another large spring of water, so, they channelled this water to make a larger fountain called Capo d’aqua, because on the abundance of this spring waters.
Since then this fountain has been rebuilt and enlarged several times, one of this was about the year 1800, in order to serve the people of Genzano as the population was growing larger. The fountain has inscribed in a corner the name of a certain ‘Lepore’, perhaps he was the mayor of the town at the time when they built or rebuilt the fountain. As I said it is a large and abundant spring fountain situated downstream from where they had found the Madonna, and just about where the chasm Del’monte and the Greek chasm meet, but well before they merge with St. Antony chasm downstream.
The fountain was built as a simple country fountain, and it had five or six large troughs of about three-metre-long and one-metre-wide, all built of solid and simple masonry. We believe that the people of Genzano have used this fountain outside the town a lot, because there was no reticulated water in town in those days.
So, this fountain was used in various ways, as there are two troughs which have three and four water sprouts each, which are fed from the spring and are constantly pouring water into the troughs. The two troughs with the sprouts are reserved for the animals to drink, and for those people that want to fill some vessels straight from the sprouts. From these two troughs then the water runs out into the rest of the troughs, and these secondary troughs were used to do the town’s washing, since there was no reticulated water in town in those times.
Capo d’aqua fountain was very popular in the old times, there was even a song that a young girl used to sing happily, she would sing about the time when she would go to Capo d’aqua fountain to do the washing. I can still remember a few of the dialect verses, and they go like this:
My Italian dialect verses.
Me chiam Rosa e teng vent’ann
E a Capodaqua ije lav li pann
Kess eij la dota ca me dai mam
na strecatora e na cest pei pann.
My name is Rose and I am twenty
And a Capo D’aqua I wash the clothes
This is the dowry that my mother gives me,
A scrubbing board and a basket for clothes.
There is a longer version of the washing lady written from the writer 'Angelo Valente' which must be a lot closer to the original; I am going to post it in my blog, http://genzanoit.blogspot.com/, once you open this link on the left side find a list of pages and click on, Poem the washing lady.
I believe that I have said enough about the Madonna story, and the story of the fountain of Capo D’aqua, in Genzano di Lucania. So, now I want to talk about my life observations and personal experience for a few more articles, before I migrated for Australia, and after that I will be telling you my life story when I was here in Australia.
Some useful links
- Frank Menchise
One of my website domains in yola.com about my life story
- Genzano di Lucania - YouTube
"...per tutti quelli che...Genzano.."
- nostalgia - complesso bandistico V. Bellini Genzano di Lucania - YouTube
Esecuzione marcia sinfonica Nostalgia, Concerto di inizio anno 2010. Complesso Bandistico V.Bellini città di Genzano di Lucania
- Comune di Genzano di Lucania - Home Page
Comune di Genzano di Lucania
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