Feasts of the Seven Sisters: Castle Madonna in Somma Vesuviana

Feasts of the Seven Sisters: Castle Madonna in Somma Vesuviana

Today is the feast of the Castle Madonna, or Madonna di Castello in Somma Vesuviana. She is sometimes called the Mamma Pacchiana, "pacchiana" meaning gaudy, uncultured, or otherwise peasant-like. She is one of the Seven Sisters, the famous Black Madonnas of Campania. 

Madonna di Castello, aka Mamma Pacchiana
"Castle Madonna, aka Peasant Mother"
May 3
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History 

A structure has stood where her sanctuary is now since 1269, when Charles of Anjou, then King of Naples, built a castle there with a chapel to St. Lucy inside. It passed through several hands, a few times being abandoned and later rebuilt. In 1622, the Venerable Don Carlo Carafa, founder of the Congregation of the "Pii Operai", bought the grounds. On the ruins of the old castle, he built a house for his community and restored the ancient chapel of St. Lucy, where he placed a wooden statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She was called the Castle Madonna, in honor of the location's history. 

Carafa would later sell the property, entrusting the church to a hermit, with the instruction to light a lamp to the Madonna on a daily basis. On December 16, 1631, a terrible eruption of Mount Vesuvius destroyed everything, including the church and statue of the Madonna. After the eruption, only her head was found in the ashes. It was brought to a sculptor in Naples, who ignored it for some time, placing it away in a chest. But one day, the sculptor's daughter, who was bedridden due to illness, began to hear the voice of the Madonna calling her. The voice told her to get up and free her head from the chest. The girl found that she was able to get up and move again. When her father returned, he sculpted the Madonna a new body in thanks for the miraculous healing of his daughter. 

Traditions

The Castle Madonna is celebrated using many of the same elements common to other Southern Italian feast days, including pilgrimage, ritual song and dance, banquets, and ex votos dedicated to the miraculous statue. You can see these elements in the video below: 

Due to her personal encounter with the might of Vesuvius, this Madonna is particularly associated with fire and volcanic eruptions. Like San Gennaro, she is prayed to for protection from the destructive power of the volcano. Her feast begins and ends with fireworks. The following video shows footage from an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 1943 mashed up with a traditional tammurriata, or ritual trance song in honor of one of the Black Madonnas, dedicated specifically to the Castle Madonna. It is an excellent accompaniment to your own trance work. 

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