The large number of Sanctuaries in Sicily is an indicator of the huge ecclesiastical and cultural heritage of the island. They are places hosting sacred testimonies, whose memory is jealousy preserved by local communities, as an inspiration for faith travelers and for artistic cultural trips.
We suggest you an itinerary among the most particularly attractive sanctuaries, well-known both for being connected to sacred events, and their historical and artistic value.
In the area of Catania, the city devoted to the culto di Sant’Agata, we find the Sanctuary of Maria Ss. di Valverde linked to brigand Dionisio’s conversion, following the Virgin Mary apparition that happened in this place in 1038.
The evocative Sanctuary of Madonna della Sciara in Mascalucia, located in Contrada Mompilieri, recalls the frightening 1669 eruption that completely buried the original ancient shrine under a thick layer of incandescent lava. After years of useless excavation works looking for the valuable statue of the Madonna, a marble work attributed to Antonello Gagini, a “pious woman” pointed to the place where to search and the precious sculpture was found undamaged. Here stands the actual small church dedicated to the Virgin Mary and entitled “Madonna della Sciara” (sciara means lava). The Sanctuary, where you can still see the cave where the statue was recovered, is immersed in the typical Etna landscape, and is an oasis of silence and spirituality.
In Trecastagni, the Sanctuary of the three Saints brothers, Alfio, Filadelfo and Cirino, dates back to the mid 17th century. Its central nave was built over the ruins of an ancient aedicule that the first Christians had erected on the site where these three Martyrs took a break during their way to Lentini in 252. The complex events related to their life, their burial and the finding of their bodies, make this place of worship a historically significant site.
The Sanctuary of Madonna del Ponte was built in Caltagirone in 573, a year after the Blessed Virgin Mary’s apparition to a deaf-mute child. The sacred image, with Baby Jesus on her lap, miraculously appeared as a reflection on the water of a ancient source that nowadays is embedded in the Sanctuary’s, inside a chapel, from where crowds of pilgrims still draw miraculous water.
In Siracusa, the Sanctuary of the Madonna delle Lacrime is yearly visited by millions of pilgrims from all over the world. The prodigious event that gave way to the weeping statue’s cult, ( an enameled, plaster bust) dates back to 1953, when human tears began to run down the Virgin’s cheeks .
In order to give a worthy place to the Madonna’s statue, the current Sanctuary was erected in the center of the city, in the recent sixties. It has modern and innovative architectural features, is about 103 meters high and can host over 15,000 people.
Near Noto old city, the Sanctuary of Madonna della Scala del Paradiso is an eighteenth-century edifice built on the ruins of a pre-existing church, which was destroyed by the 1693 earthquake. The cult refers to an image of the Madonna – previously painted on a rocky wall and then transferred to the present church – depicting the Virgin with the Infant Christ on her lap and a ladder on her right, symbolically recalling the stairway to Heaven.
In Augusta, with a wonderful view of Mount Etna, we find the Sanctuary of Santa Maria Adonai. Inside, a fresco on its rocky wall depicts the Madonna and Holy Child in the act of supporting a cross. The original cave was discovered in the 16th century and from there the small rural church was built.
In Ragusa, the cult of San Spiridione is still alive, as proved by presence of many simulacra dedicated to the Saint. One of the best known is inside the newly built Sanctuary of Madonna del Carmine, while in Scicli, the Sanctuary of Madonna delle Milizie dates back to the year one thousand, and is a beautiful example of Byzantine art.
According to some scholars the Sanctuary of Maria Ss. di Gulfi, in Chiaramonte Gulfi, dates back to the fourth century, while others affirm it is even contemporary to the Greek city Akrillai. Inside the current church, a headstone recalls the visit of St. Gregory the Great, who left his knee impression on a step in front of the Nativity Altar. Legend says that the worshipped statue of the Madonna comes from Constantinople and that it was realized at the time of the iconoclastic fury. Mysteriously survived, it would have miraculously beached on the shoreline laying between Scoglitti and Santa Croce Camerina.
In Trapani one of the most important, symbolic places for the Christian faith is the Catalan-Gothic styled Santuario della Madonna dedicated to the Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmelo. The church houses a 165 cm high marble statue of the Madonna, attributed to the sculptor Nino Pisano, and a statue carrying the relics of Saint Alberto from Trapani, the city’s patron Saint.
The Shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Paradise, located in Mazara del Vallo, in the area of Trapani, expresses the locals deep devotion to the Virgin Mary since the 18th century. This cult increased significantly in 1977, when the statue of Our Lady, kept inside the Chapel of the Holy House Paradise, prodigiously got a human gaze e began to look towards the faithful on prayer, during three miraculous days.
The Sanctuary of Santa Rosalia, in Palermo, can be reached by passing through the fascinating and scenic road leading to Monte Pellegrino. Built around the seventeenth century, it surrounds a crack in the rock almost at the top of the Mount where, on July 15, 1624, Santa Rosalia’s bones were found. The Sanctuary structure is pretty distinctive: from its 1600 façade leaning against the rock we enter the shrine and run into a finely worked vestibule. Soon afterwards a dome “opens” towards the sky; finally, a sumptuous iron gate leads us into a karstic cave, the “heart” of the Sanctuary. Santa Rosalia became Palermo’s Patron Saint after the miracle that occurred in June 1625, when her bones passed through the streets in procession and those afflicted by the plague were cured and the city saved. Since then the Palermitani call her “a Santuzza”.
Always in Palermo suburbs there is the Sanctuary of Madonna del Rosario, dedicated to the patron saint of whole Sicily, venerated throughout the region. We also remember the Sanctuary of Santa Maria di Gesù, one of the most important architectural examples, built by the Jesuits in 500.
In Altavilla Milicia, the Sanctuary of Madonna della Milicia preserves a painting dating back to the second half of the fourteenth century and repeatedly restored. The final activities have restored the original image of the crowned Madonna, sitting on a throne with Child Jesus standing on her knee; he has a letter in his left hand and looks at St. Francesco in front of him, who, with his right, hand point to a kneeling faithful in prayer at the foot of the Madonna.
The Sanctuary of Maria SS. del Rosario di Tagliavia, in Corleone, belongs to the Diocese of Monreale. At the beginning of the nineteenth century the image of Our Lady of the Rosary was found in the same place where the Sanctuary is today. According to popular tradition, in such place there was a source of water reputed to have healing powers: when any ill animal drunk at the spring, it immediately recovered.
In Gangi, one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, the Sanctuary of the Holy Spirit is linked to the story of a deaf-mute farmer that miraculously regained his voice. One day, while he was digging a well, he bumped into a boulder which seemed to outline an image of God, with a dove on his chest. Noticing that the stone was bleeding, the man, astonished, screamed for the miracle. At that precise point a church was built.
The Sanctuary of Madonna del Ponte, in Partinico, a Christian destination for centuries, welcomes us with a beautiful ceramic staircase leading to this charming place of worship, surrounded by nature.
In the countryside surrounding Cefalù , the Sanctuary of Gibilmanna is an oasis of peace and spirituality. Inside it there are many statues dedicated to the Virgin Mary, including a simulacrum of the Holy Mary, Queen of Paradise, attributed to Antonello Gagini. It is said that in 1760, during a service attended by hundreds of faithful, because of the laying of the crowns received from the Vatican, a mute and a blind man were healed.
In Monreale, inside the Basilica of Santa Maria la Nuova, there is the Sanctuary of Madonna del Popolo where a statue of a crowned Madonna and Child is venerated. The celebration of the Feast of Madonna del Popolo dates back to the seventeenth century and is the oldest Monreale event.
In the province of Agrigento, in Sciacca, the Sanctuary of San Calogero al Monte, a Minor Basilica since 1979, stands on top of a mountain with a breathtaking view. The cave, where, according to tradition, the hermit San Calogero used to rest, is today located below the current church. A majolica panel on in front of a small altar depicts the old Saint Calogero with a wounded deer on his right, and a kneeling, praying archer on his left. On the main altar of the church, an eighteenth-century wooden case keeps a statue of San Calogero, a work by Gagini.
Also in Sciacca, inside the main Church, there is the Sanctuary of the Beata Maria Vergine del Soccorso, dating back to 1108. In 1656, following the collapse of the façade, a restoration work on its Norman foundations was carried out, but, fortunately, its apses and Gothic arches were preserved. Between 1656 and 1686 the church was rebuilt to a design by architect Michele Blasco and today it has an unfinished facade in Baroque style.
In Naro, a pretty and ancient village in the area of Agrigento, the Sanctuary of San Calogero is the favourite destination of many faithful who offer the black Saint Simulacrum special shapes of bread reproducing the parts of their bodies as a thank for healing them. San Calogero is in fact worshipped as a holy thaumaturge and healer.
The Cathedral of Messina is actually the Sanctuary of St.Mary of the Assumption. Its origins date back to the year one thousand and inside it we find a priceless art heritage, such as works by Antonello Gagini, an eighteenth-century crucifix, a portrait of Fra ‘Gregorio, by Adolfo Romano, the high altar with a golden-copper canopy and a pipe organ reputed to be the second largest in Europe.
Also in Messina we find the Sanctuary dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes. Rebuilt in 1954, after the 1908 earthquake, today it is home to the students of philosophy and theology belonging to the Sicily Friars Minor Order. A faithful copy of the grotto of Lourdes was built right next to it in the 1960s.
Always in Messina, the Sanctuary of Madonna di Montalto is located on a hill in front of the Duomo square and the city’s port. The church structure, faithfully rebuilt to earthquake standards, combines of Romanesque and Gothic styles. From its large churchyard you can enjoy a wide view over the Strait of Messina and the city and its main monuments.
The Monastery of Montevergine, now a Sanctuary, is dedicated to Santa Eustochia Smeralda. Sister Eustochia, nee Smeralda Calafato, decided to take the vows when she was 15, despite her parents’ wishes that threatened to burn the convent. She used to live in poverty and penance, sleeping on the ground and wearing the cilice. It is surprising how her body, after more than five centuries, was still uncorrupted even after the great 1908 earthquake. It is kept in the monastery, inside a glass case.
Particularly fascinating is the view from the Sanctuary of Madonna della Rocca in Taormina, which is on the way to Castello Saraceno, at the top of an ancient staircase. Standing in front of the Ionian Sea and surrounded by a Mediterranean vegetation, the sanctuary is carved into the limestone rock. The cult of the Virgin is greatly felt by the faithful who, every first Sunday of September, carry her effigy in procession and close the celebrations with a rich feast.
On the eastern end of Tindari promontory, overlooking the sea and with a view of the Aeolian Islands and Marinello Reserve, is the Sanctuary of the Black Madonna.
The church was destroyed by the Algerian pirates in 1544 and then rebuilt in 1598. In 1979 it was enlarged in order to contain the crowds of pilgrims and visitors.
The famous statue, perhaps coming from the East, is linked to a legend: a storm forced the ship carrying the Black Madonna into the port of Tindari and, even when the weather conditions had improved, it could not leave any more until when the sailors deposited their precious load at the local abbey for safekeeping. In that place stands the current Sanctuary.
In Caltanissetta, the Sanctuary of Jesus the Redeemer is a sort of monument. The small chapel with a square plan serve as a basis to the statue of the Redeemer. The work is by the architect Ernesto Basile, the son of Giovan Battista Filippo Basile.
Not far from Marianopoli, in the former fiefdom of Castel Belici, is the Sanctuary of the Ss. Crocifisso di Belici, the destination of thousands of pilgrims during the celebrations of 3 May. The crucifix, kept inside it, is attributed to Frà Innocenzo da Petralia, a pupil of Friar Umile Pintorno (seventeenth century). The popular tradition tells instead that a young shepherd, during a Belice river flood, sheltered in a cave, located near the current Sanctuary. While waiting, he carved the Crucifix that was miraculously completed during the night.
In Enna, the evocative Sanctuary of the SS. Crucifix of Papardura is partly built in the rock and has rich decorations with stuccoes belonging to Serpotta school, as well as a coffered wooden roof. Outside the small and cosy church you can enjoy a beautiful view of the valley below.
The Sanctuary of St. Philip the Apostle in Aidone is dedicated to the Saint who is celebrated every year on May 1, with the procession of his statue and relics along the city center. A local tradition see the faithful rubbing the zigareddi (strips of colored cloth) on the statue making vows, so that they can return the following year.
In Agira, the Sanctuary of San Filippo d’Agira was erected upon an ancient monastery founded by the Basilian friars above the sepulcher of San Filippo. The Saint, a priest of oriental origins, was sent to Sicily to evangelize the island. With his disciples he lived in the monastery, where, in 1599, his remains were found. Over the centuries, the building has undergone several renovations that have changed its original layout. The façade was built in the first decades of the last century, while its interior dates back to the eighteenth-century. The crypt, named cavea, is the place where the relics were found.