On the promontory facing the splendid Gulf of Patti, in the province of Messina, overlooking the picturesque Lakes of Marinello, stands the Sanctuary of Tindari.
The building was constructed where ancient documents report the existence of the Castle of Tindari, confirming the hypothesis that the first religious nucleus was constituted by a fortified church built on a pre-existing archaeological area, that of the Greek colony of Tyndaris, founded by the tyrant Dionysius the Elder in 396 BC.
In the 5th century AD, the city became an episcopal center, and the fortress church was enlarged to include the temple dedicated to Ceres, located east of the promontory. In medieval times, in a period ranging from the last decades of the eighth century to the year one thousand, the statue of the Black Madonna was found in a wooden box in the gulf which would then be transported to the church and placed on the eastern side.
The statue of Byzantine origin, as evidenced by the oriental crown and clothing, soon became an object of worship and a pilgrimage destination, but the place of origin and its destination remain unknown. The most plausible hypothesis is that it arrived in the Gulf of Patti due to the iconoclastic fury that raged for centuries in the Byzantine Empire.
Made of a single block of cedar from Lebanon and hollowed internally, it dates back to the period ranging from the last decades of the eighth century to the early ninth. The Madonna sits enthroned like a queen, but she herself becomes the throne on which the child, who already has the face of an adult, sits raising its right hand in the act of blessing. Below it has the inscription taken from the Song of Songs of King Solomon, a Jewish and Christian sacred text: Nigra sum sed formosa (I am black, but beautiful) which, according to the Catholic interpretation, would superimpose the figure of the Madonna on that of the Church.
Over the centuries, the Sanctuary experienced events related to the Arab raids, the Norman conquest, the Spanish settlement and the privateer and Ottoman raids in the struggles against the Spaniards for control of the Mediterranean. From the mid to the end of the 16th century, the religious building was rebuilt according to the appearance of a crenellated fortress that could withstand numerous attacks by sea, until in 1943 it was occupied first by the Italian army, then by the British who transformed it into a military hospital.
After the war, an extension and rearrangement work was necessary to accommodate all the pilgrims who annually reached this place of Marian devotion. The work began in 1956 and ended in 1975, and the consecration took place in 1979.
The Black Madonnas in Europe and the World
- The Black Madonna of Tindari is not a rarity. There are 741 Black Madonnas in Europe alone, half of which are in France, especially in the Auvergne region, 121 in Italy in 18 different regions and 108 in Spain. But there are also some in the Canaries, the Philippines, Russia and South America.
- A scholar and Frenchman, Jacques Huynen, has identified some common characteristics:
- They are all wooden statues, most dating back to between the 11th and 13th centuries.
- All sit enthroned with a detached and hieratic expression and most of them hold the Child on their knees, generally outlined with less detail.
- They measure seventy centimeters in height, thirty in width and thirty in depth. Those that have kept their original colors wear red, white and blue
- The stories (or legends) concerning their origin have to do with the East.
- The miracles performed, and the Christian cults linked to them have extraordinary similarities, even if in very distant places on earth.
- All are placed in places of worship originally dedicated to pagan or Celtic deities before their transformation into Catholic sanctuaries.
- These sanctuaries would have always been linked either to the Benedictine or Cistercian order or to the Knights Templar and have esoteric symbols.
- Black, a Controversial Color
Over the centuries, the Black Madonnas have often been painted white, to relieve the embarrassment that their color (but above all its interpretation) evoked.
It has been said that they were black due to the patina of time, from the fumes of candles, from having survived fires or from the mold caused by the humidity to which the wood had been subjected over the centuries. But in reality, the cedar of Lebanon in which they are carved was considered sacred already in the time of the Egyptians and throughout the Mediterranean area precisely because it is immortal and unassailable by insects.
Black evoked heresy because it established an easy connection between the dark-skinned Madonnas and the pagan female deities. Isis (represented with her son Horus in her arms) and Demeter were black. The priestesses of the latter wore black tunics, as well as the priestesses of Ceres, the Roman equivalent of the Greek Demeter. Being a deity of agriculture and of the cycle of birth and death, black indicated a simple reference to the color of the earth. In addition, after the edict of Constantine, which consecrated Christianity to the official religion of the empire, many temples dedicated to these goddesses of the earth were adapted to Christian churches, creating an overlap between female cult figures.
One might wonder why these dark Madonnas were gladly accepted in Catholic Christian churches. History tells us, thanks to a testimony dating back to the time of the Crusades, that it was King Louis the Holy who brought some dark wood sculptures representing the Virgin Mary from the Holy Land, thus clarifying the origin of the French Brown Madonnas of the region of Forez.
Tindari, an Unmissable Stop in Sicily
In addition to the Sanctuary with a long history dedicated to this particular Black Madonna, Tindari is a splendid location for the presence of the archaeological park which preserves Greek and Roman ruins of the ancient city, made great by Octavian Augustus and defended by Cicero against Verre in his judicial orations of 70 BC.
Visiting the archaeological area, you reach a splendid amphitheater from which you can also admire the natural spectacle of the Gulf of Patti from above which, from Montegiove to the town of Tindari, reveals wonderful, small coves that can only be reached by boat and, in the middle of the sea, you can see Vulcano Island and the Aeolian Islands.
Going down to the beach below the Sanctuary, you enter the Marinello Lakes Nature Reserve, where you can spend a day bathing in the crystal-clear and turquoise waters of the gulf.
Those who love folklore will certainly appreciate the numerous sacred art shops around the Sanctuary and cannot miss the Feast of the Madonna di Tindari which is held on September 7th every year, during which the statue is carried on the shoulders in a procession on a throne of flowers along the streets of the city.
The last recommendation we would like to give you is to taste the famous prickly pear granita, a local delicacy that can be enjoyed not far from the Sanctuary and which will pleasantly refresh you after your visit.