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89812 Pizzo Calabro (VV) - Italy
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There was once a sailing ship that at the mercy of the waves of a stormy sea, the likes of which had never been witnessed before, was shipwrecked on the rocks in an isolated spot.

It was 1600; and the isolated spot was the coast of Pizzo, where the sailors from the shipwrecked ship, who couldn’t believe that they had managed to escape the ravages of the sea, landed safe and sound. The survivors proclaimed a miracle and attributed their rescue to the supernatural powers of a painting of the Virgin Mary that had been on board the ship and that had also escaped damage from the storm.

The sailors and the people that came to their assistance took the painting and put it in a safe place, in an sheltered inlet, on a sturdy rock, and weighed it down with large stones.  But a new storm broke out – the sea carried the painting away, and deposited it, where it was later found, on the small beach where the sailing ship had originally been shipwrecked and where the “sailors of the miracle” had been found safe and sound.

This new, extraordinary turn of events convinced everyone to leave the effigy of the Virgin Mary where the sea had deposited it.  It remains there to this day, in a recess in the rocks, where the devotion of man has consecrated it for ever in memory of that event and to protect the people of this seaside town.

In this lonely spot, for more than two centuries, people have come to pray and to fervently express their faith and their thanks to the divinity in the hope of obtaining protection from life’s adversities and difficulties.

A unique place of worship, which over the years has become an extraordinary tiny church, and where, at the end of the last century, around two and a half centuries after the original shipwreck, an artist from Pizzo,  Angelo Barone, worked for years in the grotto where the painting was placed, sculpting hundreds of statues in the tuff, a crowd of stone people, whose presence bears witness to man’s faith in divine and transcendental powers.

Scenes of Religious History, episodes from the Gospel, from the life of the Saints, from some of Jesus’s more important parables gradually came to life through fascinating, submissive images, images created from meditated, laboured inspiration, that depict a wealth of emotions and insinuations, and whose light, that penetrates through the windows – which are none other than cracks in the rock – and from cracks in the vault, create not only a presence, but above all a soul.

So much so, that the figure of the artist who created them has gained a mysterious and legendary reputation.

But the legend of Piedigrotta doesn’t end with him.

After his death, his son Alfonso continued along the spiritual path of his father and worked in the small church for most of his life, filling it with new characters, inspired by the same faith and love that his father displayed. Even his grandson, Giorgio Barone made his contribution by carving two bas-reliefs years ago, portraying J.F. Kennedy and Pope Giovanni XXIII: these too a sign of the times, a message – like the church – of hope and peace. Its name is “Piedigrotta”.

However, “La Madonnella” is closer to the hearts of the citizens of Pizzo, the silent ringing of the tiny church’s ancient bell that bears the date of its casting, 1632, and which was the bell on board the “miracle ship”.