The brown Madonna of Si­cily – Our Lady of Tin­dari

Malta Independent - - FEATURE - Fr. Her­mann Dun­can is a Carmelite Friar at the Carem­lite Pri­ory in Bal­luta. Fr Her­mann Dun­can

Trav­el­ling along the road be­tween Palermo and Messina be­tween the co­mune of Capo d’Or­lando and the town of Mi­lazzo in the Metropoltian city of Messina in Si­cily, you can see a large church perched on top of a hill, over­look­ing the sea. This is the Sanc­tu­ary of the Brown Madonna of Tin­dari, a Holy place of pil­grim­age.

The de­vo­tion to the Madonna of Tin­dari

No well-de­fined and ver­i­fied his­tor­i­cal in­for­ma­tion is avail­able re­gard­ing the ori­gins of the cult of the Madonna of Tin­dari. How­ever there is a pi­ous tra­di­tion that dates back to the pe­riod of the icon­o­clas­tic per­se­cu­tion. Ac­cord­ing to tra­di­tion, a ship re­turn­ing from the East, had an im­age of the Madonna hid­den in the hold, hid­den away from the hands of the icon­o­clasts. As the ship sailed the wa­ters of the Tyrrhe­nian Sea, a storm sud­denly arose which forced it to in­ter­rupt its course and take refuge in the bay of Tin­dari, now Marinello.

When the storm calmed, the sailors de­cided to re­sume their jour­ney. They raised the an­chor, lifted the sails and be­gan to row, but they could not move the ship. They tried over and over again, but the ves­sel re­mained in the same place, as if it were stranded in the har­bour.

They de­cided to lighten the load, but it was only when, among other things, they un­loaded the box con­tain­ing the revered statue of the Vir­gin, that the ship be­gan mov­ing and re­sumed its course on the open seas.

The lo­cals in the bay im­me­di­ately got to work haul­ing the float­ing cargo from the sea. To ev­ery­one’s sur­prise and sat­is­fac­tion, in one of the boxes they found the precious im­age of the Vir­gin.

Af­ter their dilemma of where to place the im­age, they soon de­cided to trans­port the ef­figy of the Vir­gin to the high­est and most beau­ti­ful lo­ca­tion in the area - Tin­dari, where a thriv­ing Christian com­mu­nity had al­ready ex­isted for some time.

This was prob­a­bly to­wards the end of the 8th cen­tury or in the first decades of the 9th cen­tury, when Tin­dari had al­ready been un­der the dom­i­na­tion of the Byzan­tines for about three cen­turies (535-836) and also the seat of a dio­cese for about five cen­turies, where the pro­fes­sion of the Christian faith was flour­ish­ing. So there­fore the im­me­di­ate re­cep­tion of the sa­cred im­age was cer­tainly ac­cepted.

The au­thor of the statue is un­known, and it is very dif­fi­cult to de­fine the pe­riod in which it was sculpted. Con­sid­er­ing the style and tak­ing into ac­count that the Madonna holds in her arms the Divine Child, one could con­clude that it dates back to an era af­ter the Coun­cil of Eph­e­sus in which the divine mother­hood of Mary was de­fined. Hy­po­thet­i­cally the statue was carved in the East be­tween the fifth and sixth cen­turies.

The Madonna is rep­re­sented seated, while she holds her divine Son with a raised right arm in the act of bless­ing, close to her womb. She wears an oriental crown, in the form of a tur­ban, made of the same wood and dec­o­rated with light golden arabesques.

The mirac­u­lous statue of the Madonna of Tin­dari was solemnly crowned by de­cree of the Chap­ter of St Pe­ter’s Basil­ica in Rome in 1886.

The Sanc­tu­ary

Ac­cord­ing to his­tor­i­cal ac­counts, among the very few build­ings in Tin­dari spared from de­struc­tion by the Arabs, was a church, with an an­cient statue of the Madonna. Af­ter 1544 the church ded­i­cated to Our Lady of Tin­dari was re­built, and on the cor­ner-stone of the en­trance portal was in­scribed the year 1598, prob­a­bly the year of com­ple­tion of the portal it­self.

For four cen­turies thou­sands of Si­cil­ian devo­tees, bur­dened by their con­cerns of life, raised their minds and hearts to the Lord and turned to Her who is “Our Mother and Our trust”. From this sanc­tu­ary in the prov­ince of Messina, the sweet Vir­gin of Tin­dari, sen­si­tive to all the prayers and pleas of her chil­dren, pro­fusely poured out nu­mer­ous trea­sures of her graces.

The tem­ple, through­out the past four cen­turies, un­der­went var­i­ous restora­tions, but sub­stan­tially re­mained the same in all its sim­plic­ity, as we see it to­day.

The con­struc­tion of the new Sanc­tu­ary was part of the pas­toral pro­gram of the epis­co­pate of Bishop Giuseppe Pul­lano (19531977). By 1953, the ex­ist­ing old Sanc­tu­ary was un­able to ac­com­mo­date the large num­ber of pil­grims. There were a num­ber of pre­vi­ous at­tempts, some even con­sid­er­ing the de­mo­li­tion of the old church, which still did not seem to of­fer an ad­e­quate so­lu­tion.

Mgr Pul­lano iden­ti­fied the most suit­able so­lu­tion which would leave the an­cient church in­tact. The new church would be built in the precincts of the sanc­tu­ary house by strip­ping away the rock and de­mol­ish­ing some rooms.

On De­cem­ber 8, 1957, the first stone which was brought from the Graeco-Ro­man re­mains in the area was laid on the site af­ter be­ing blessed by Pope Pius XII on De­cem­ber 30, 1956.

Al­most two decades later, on the af­ter­noon of Septem­ber 6, 1975, Bishop Pul­lano blessed the in­te­rior of the new shrine and the new throne for the statue of the Madonna of Tin­dari. The statue of the Madonna was then trans­ported to the new tem­ple and placed by the Bishop on an artis­tic, precious throne, be­neath the cen­tral arch of the new tem­ple.

On May 1, 1979 the new Sanc­tu­ary was solemnly con­se­crated by Cardinal Salvatore Pap­palardo, Arch­bishop of Palermo, who in his homily de­fined the Sanc­tu­ary as “a ma­jes­tic Basil­ica and an­techam­ber of Par­adise”.

He ex­plained the sig­nif­i­cance of the cer­e­mony and high­lighted the ded­i­ca­tion of the new tem­ple as the launch­ing point for new goals: “mov­ing for­ward with con­fi­dence, to­wards the fu­ture of this shrine while in­vok­ing the beau­ti­ful prayer … “Madre Mia, Fidu­cia Mia” (My Mother, My Trust).

The new sanc­tu­ary has a basil­ica plan of a Latin cross, with three naves, a square transept and a semi­cir­cu­lar apse. The base is in Car­rara mar­ble and the sides of the roof are cov­ered in blue ce­ram­ics. On the north­ern side, ad­ja­cent to the left aisle, a large por­tico 76 me­ters long and 8 wide was built al­low­ing pil­grims to ad­mire the spec­tac­u­lar panorama of the Marinello lakes be­neath. Be­neath the log­gia there is a large room which is con­nected to the crypt and forms the pen­i­ten­tiary of the Sanc­tu­ary.

The façade im­pos­ingly rises above the square crowned with a beau­ti­ful bell tower. The doors are in bronze and on the sides of the main door there are the stat­ues of Saints Pe­ter and Paul. En­ter­ing the Sanc­tu­ary the pil­grim first en­ters an atrium dec­o­rated with nu­mer­ous stained glass win­dows, above which there is a large pipe or­gan.

The cen­tral nave is bor­dered by oc­tag­o­nal col­umns with white mar­ble bases, and on the vault is a grandiose paint­ing de­pict­ing “The Tri­umph of the Madonna” by the painter Fausto Conti. On the side aisles, in large mo­saics we find the rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the mys­ter­ies of the Rosary.

The large al­tar, in the mid­dle of the transept, rests on yel­low mar­ble bases in­side which there is a beau­ti­ful white mar­ble sculp­ture rep­re­sent­ing the Last Sup­per of Christ. Be­hind it stands an artis­tic throne on which the im­age of the Madonna del Tin­dari is ven­er­ated.

It is in­ter­est­ing to note that the sanc­tu­ary was el­e­vated to the ti­tle of Mi­nor Basil­ica in July 2018.

The Sanc­tu­ary of Our Lady of Tin­dari

The statue of Our Lady of Tin­dari

The pro­ces­sion out­side the Sanc­tu­ary

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