A Guide to Irpinia
Every year, millions of pilgrims travel to sanctuaries devoted to Mary in the Campania region. Montevergine and Materdomini,in Irpinia, are two important destinationfor organised, individual and family trips. Embarking on a pilgrimage is a religious act, which also has inherent psychological and moral components. a significant moment in the life of believers, it evokes a personal journey in the footsteps of the saints and the Madonna.
The sanctuary of Materdomini in Caposele
The hill of Materdomini is about 600 metres above sea level, standing over the fertile valley of the River Sele. Materdomini, a Latin composite of a title attributed to the Virgin Mary at the Council of Ephesus in the year 431, meaning ‘Mother of God’, owes its name to an ancient statue of the Madonna found in the woods by shepherds.
In 1746, St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, founder of the Redemptorist Fathers, built a convent on the site. Its construction was given a significant contribution by an individual who undoubtedly played the most important role in making Materdomini famous since its beginning: Gerard Majella. He arrived at Materdomini in the year 1754. The year after his death, his fame spread rapidly and he was beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1893. The expansion of the shrine became an urgent necessity. The new church was inaugurated on 31 August 1929. In the 1950s, due to an increase in the number of pilgrims, the structure had become too small and a larger church, which is a beautiful example of contemporary architecture,was built and opened in 1974.
The design seeks to emulate the biblical Tabernacle Tent, which God ordered Moses to build in the desert. The traditional holy day for the pilgrimage is 16 October, dedicated to the blessing of the sowing of the fields. Inside the sanctuary, a museum dedicated to St Gerard Majella has been set up, which contains objects from his life.
The sanctuary of Montevergine in Mercogliano
The sanctuary of Montevergine was founded by San Guglielmo of Vercelli (1085-1142) at the beginning of the 12th century. It was entrusted to a community of Benedictine monks, founded by San Guglielmo, who wear white in honour of the Madonna. In the new basilica, opened for worship in 1961, on a large throne of precious marbles is an image of the Madonna of Montevergine, which is 4.60m x 2.38m and is painted on a panel that weighs about 1,000 kg. It is one of the largest icons of the Madonna in existence.
Visitors can reach the sanctuary by taking the panoramic cable car, which only takes 7 minutes from Mercogliano. Pilgrims can also take the ancient cow paths and trails that climb the mountain. The old Baroque church (early 16th century) is an architectural masterpiece, rich in precious gilded stuccoes from the 1600s. Another site that is not to be missed is the Museo Diocesano Abbaziale, the diocesan museum of the abbey, where visitors can admire unique works of art, such as the ancient abbey throne and a wooden Christ taken down from the cross that dates back to the 13th century.
The work that makes the climb to the sanctuary of Montevergine worthwhile for art alone is definitely the Madonna, which is said to have been painted by San Guglielmo in the 12th century (tempera on panel, 230 x 98 cm). It is the first image of the Madonna worshiped at Montevergine, which has survived until today, with a frontal view that shows the Virgin dressed as an empress, while she is feeding Jesus with her breast exposed.
The abbey of Goleto in Sant’Angelo dei Lombardi
Located above the Ofanto valley in the area of Sant’Angelo dei Lombardi, the abbey was founded by San Guglielmo of Montevergine in 1133. Built as a double monastery (men and women), with an upper and lower church and a surrounding hamlet as well as a cemetery, the abbey went through a golden age between the 12th and 13th centuries.
The Torre Febronia, a tower built in the garden by the Abbess Febronia, dates back to 1252 and was built for defensive purposes, using material stripped from Roman burial monuments. The 18th-century church built by Neapolitan architect Domenico Antonio Vaccaro has preserved its three-arched entrance with stone portals and the remains of the masonry of three marble altars. The beautiful design of the floor can also be admired.
The true architectural and artistic masterpiece that adorns this site of peace, silence and prayer, is the chapel of San Luca. In 1225, the arrival at the monastery of the relic of the arm of San Luca was the reason for building the chapel, commissioned by the Abbess Marina. The church is rich in sculptures, and contains a multicoloured sarcophagus that holds the body of San Guglielmo, which stands out in particular.
The convent of San Francesco a Folloni in Montella
The oldest sources and traditions state that Saint Francis of Assisi (heading for the caves of San Michele in the Gargano region in Puglia) sought shelter here in the winter of 1221 under a holm oak in a miraculous episode. Despite the severe weather, the snow that fell that night did not touch the leaves of the tree, which remained green, nor did it soak the robes of the brothers who took refuge there for the night.
The holm oak, concealed in the foundation of the convent, is a symbol of the development of the centuries-old monumental complex of San Francesco a Folloni. After the earthquake in 1980 devastated Irpinia, large-scale restoration work took place at the convent, which turned into a treasure trove of artwork that was recovered from the seriously damaged churches in the area. A restoration laboratory and a museumwere also built.
Most of the works have now been returned to their original sites, but the precious panels by Marco Pino da Siena, Teodoro d’Errik and Leonardo da Pistoia from Bagnoli Irpino, as well as several works from the convent can be admired in the museum adjacent to the magnificent Renaissance two-storey cloister with porticoes on four sides. The magnificent, bright church, in the Neapolitan Habsburg style, is a treasure trove of Baroque art from the Campania region, and its sacristy houses a funerary monument to Diego Cavaniglia, the so-called Tomba degli Innamorati, or tomb of lovers, which has inspired some of the most important singers of love songs throughout the centuries.
The collegiate church of Santa Maria Assunta in Bagnoli Irpino
The Mother Church of Bagnoli, dedicated to the Assumption, was built in the 12th century on Giudecca hill, the site of the original inhabited area. The entrance is the original, and inside numerous frescoes and sculptures by local artists can be admired. Some of these works include the Beheading of John the Baptist and the Our Lady of Sorrows by Andrea D’Asti, and a painting that depicts the Immaculate Conception, considered the protector of the town, by Gustavo Trillo.
The Deceased Christ by Domenico De Venuta is another work that can also be seen in the church. A true masterpiece of carving is the wooden choir, which on its own makes a visit to Bagnoli Irpino worthwhile. It was executed between 1652 and 1657 by local artists Scipione Infante, Gian Domenico, Giovanni Angiolo Della Vecchia and Giacomo Bonavita.
The sanctuary of Santa Filomena in Mugnano del Cardinale
The magnificent sanctuary of Santa Filomena, also known as Santissima Maria delle Grazie, is a site for constant pilgrimages and was built in 1641 to hold the relics of the saint.