The Society of the Madonna Della Cava held their 103 anniversary Feast in Boston’s North End on Aug. 11 to 13, with a procession of a banner of the saint through the streets on Sunday, Aug. 13. The celebration continues a tradition that traces back to the 13th century in Italy.
As the story goes, in 1223, a young mute Roman Catholic boy living in Trapani, in the northwest corner of Sicily, dreamed that the Madonna–the mother of Jesus–visited him in a dream. She told him to go to the nearby town of Ronzi: “Come in and uncover me from the ground.” The boy tried to explain to his mother, but she dismissed him. He dreamed of the Madonna again, but again his mother ignored him. He dreamed of the Madonna a third time, and finally convinced his mother. So they and other villagers, impressed by the boy’s dream, went searching in Ronzi.
They dug, but did not find the Madonna, so they built a shrine there, and dug elsewhere. Again they were unsuccessful, and erected a shire on the second spot. As the story goes, they dug at a third location and uncovered a stone painted with an image of the Madonna breastfeeding the baby Jesus. Miraculously the boy’s speech and hearing were healed, and he said, “Viva Maria SS della Cava” (roughly: Long life the Madonna of the Quarry).
The villagers tried to carry the stone home, but they dropped it and it cracked. Which they took as a sign that the painted stone should stay where they found it. So they built a shrine there, which eventually became the Madonna della Cava chuch, where the stone painted with the image of the Madonna is still displayed near the main altar.
Ronzi was renamed Pietraperzia–meaning stone/rock town. There they hold an annual festival on the second week of August in the Madonna’s honor.
In the early 20th century, people from Pietraperzia emigrated to Boston, settling mostly on Battery, Charter and Hanover Streets and Salutation Alley. In the early 1950s, they built a chapel at 3 Battery St. And they continued the annual festival each August, carrying a banner depicting the Madonna through the streets and collecting donations. The faithful say, “The traditional use of a cloth banner of the saint – rather than a statue – is based on the belief that a statue will fall and crack, just like the stone bearing the image of the Madonna once did so many centuries ago.”
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