The Miracle of Madonna Della Cava
In the early 13th century, in the village of Trapani, in the northwest corner of Sicily lived a young mute boy. He had lost the ability to speak at birth. One night, the Madonna Della Cava
visited him in a dream. She said to him: “Come in and uncover me from the ground”. The Madonna told the young boy where she lay buried, in the nearby town of Ronzi in the central province of Enna. The next morning, the boy awoke and tried to tell his mother about his dream. But the mother dismissed his story, thinking it to be only his imagination.
The Madonna visited the boy in a second dream and instructed him again to come in and uncover her. A second time, the boy told his mother about the dream and again the mother ignored her son. Finally, a third time, the Madonna Della Cava visited the young boy in a dream. She implored him to uncover her from the earth. This time, the boy pleaded so strenuously to his mother that she was finally convinced that there might be some merit to his dreams.
Hence, the mother, son and other villagers who were equally impressed with the story of the boy’s dream traveled to the town of Ronzi. There, they began to dig in one area. They did not find the Madonna, so they erected a shrine on the site of this digging in her honor. Then, they again began digging in a second spot, all to no avail. They erected still another shrine on the spot of this second excavation. On the third effort, the people found their reward. In the ground lay an enormous, beautifully shining stone with the image of the Madonna Della Cava painted on it.
The villagers knelt and humbled themselves before this image of Madonna Della Cava. Suddenly, the little boy’s speech was miraculously restored. This is the miracle of the Madonna Della Cava.
The villagers of Trapani tried carrying this stone back to their town. In attempting this, the stone fell to the ground and cracked. They interpreted this as a sign that the Madonna belonged where she was uncovered. So, they built a beautiful shrine on the spot where the Madonna was originally found. This became the Madonna Della Cava church, which still stands today. The stone bearing the image of the Madonna rests inside the church near the main altar.
Pope Innocencia XIII immediately declared via Papal Doctrine the church to be a true parish . And the town district of Ronzi was re-named “Pietraperzia” – “Pietra” meaning “stone” or “rock” and “Perzia” meaning “town”. The Perzii (the natives of this town), still worship the Madonna Della Cava and look to her for salvation. An annual festival is held there in Sicily on the second week of August in her honor, which has continued over the many centuries to this day.
At the beginning of the 20th century, a huge wave of Italian immigrants came to the United States. Many settled in Boston’s North End, which was at that time a predominantly Jewish, Irish and Portuguese neighborhood. The villagers from Pietraperzia congregated mostly on Battery, Charter and Hanover Streets, and on Salutation Alley. They brought with them both their faith in the Madonna Della Cava and their traditional celebration in her honor.
Thus, on the second week of each August, the North End celebrates the Feast of Madonna Della Cava, which coincides with the festival held in Pietraperzia, Sicily. A beautiful cloth banner bearing the Madonna’s image is carried throughout the neighborhood during the procession to collect money and valuables donated by the citizenry. During the 1930’s and 1940’s, a special raffle was held and the prize was a lamb, representing sacrifice. 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.
In the early 1950s, the members of the Society of the Madonna Della Cava erected a Chapel at 3 Battery Street (with a back entrance on Salutation Alley), where members could pray at the shrine of the Madonna. In 1988, they renovated the upper Chapel and added a lower Society room which is large enough to host Christmas parties and other celebrations.
For many decades, the Feast of the Madonna Della Cava has been celebrated in Boston’s North End, initially by members who were all first-generation Italian-Americans. Eventually, many of these original members passed away and their children moved out of the neighborhood. The Society’s membership now includes people from several other Boston neighborhoods and the surrounding suburbs, many of whose relatives first settled in the North End.
The Society of the Madonna Della Cava welcomes support of every kind.
The events held by the Society during the year sponsor several community children and religious organizations.