Photo archive“The Sanctuary of the Madonna of the Cave, is based in the council of Praia a Mare, it is situated inside 3 rocky caves, at about 90 meters above the sea level and is reachable by climbing a series of steps, from where you can admire the whole of the Gulf of Policastrum.
Being populated since the Advanced Palaeolithic, as attest the studies carried out in 1960 by the Italian Institute of Human Palaeontology at Rome University, the Sanctuary has always characterized the land where it lies based.
Used by Basilians friars in the 16th century, it became a place of cult, so much that it was the point of reference for the local population, not only from a religious point of view, but a socio-historical one too, until it generated the origin of an urban spot. It is in fact by the feet of the sanctuary that the first few houses of fishermen and farmers developed, marking the birth of Praia a Mare”. (F.Colino-R.Droghini. Il Santuario della Madonna della Grotta in Praia a Mare. Ed. Salvati 2007)

Since the 7th century, as a result of the iconoclast persecution developed to Constantinople, many of the friars moved towards Calabria, especially the northern part, where the Eparchies of the Mercury (Greek diocese of the Mercurion) were formed. To this age goes back the existence of a Basilian convent (Monastery of St. Elijah) based on the slopes of one hill in the area of Aieta, near the sea, most likely in the great caves of the Sanctuary of the Madonna.

“It is then possible that moving away, the friars would take their dearest images with them, amongst which the ones showing the Madonna. It is possible to assume that the statue of the Madonna, would have come from the East with the friars, or would have been made by local masters, in their own land. According to what Isnardi asserted ‘the stocky and rigid shapes, the waves and big heavy folds, the enhanced realistic features of the faces and of the hair styles, would lead to think that more than a work of Byzantine origin as we believed sometimes, it was a work of ingenuous popular character of an age, perhaps not preceding the 14th century itself and of a not so remote origin’ “. (G.Isnardi. Frontiera Calabrese. Ed. Scientifiche Italiane. Napoli 1965)

Photo archive“Anyway, the lack of accurate news related to the arrival of the statue of the Madonna of the Cave, started the ‘legend’ that it came from Orient, brought by a sailor and discovered by a shepherd. The legend written for the first time by a theologian, P. Ludovico Marafioti in the ‘Madonna’s Sacred Iconology for them Kingdoms of Naples and Sicily..’, tells that in August 1326 a ship full of merchandise coming from Ragusa with Turkish crew and a catholic captain, stopped not far from the shore because of a sudden dead calm. After many unsuccessful tentative to keep sailing, the sailors , once they discovered the statue in the captain’s cabin, thought that the problem was due to and threatened the captain to throw it in the sea. At the sight of many caves nearby the shore, the captain decides to put it on a flat rock, inside one of the caves. The statue was discovered a few days later by a little shepherd and was taken to the church of the Aieta‚Äôs Visitation Church, but the following day vanished and was found on the rock where the captain left it in the first place”. (G.Guida. Santuario della Madonna della Grotta e Praia a Mare. Calabria Letteraria Editrice)

Photo archive“Unfortunately, the statue (about 80 cm. tall, base included) which is today situated inside the Chapel of the Sanctuary, is not the original one which was smuggled during the night of the 4th of march 1979. The actual one has been built in 1983 by ‘Tschager’ of Bolzano, firm specialized in holy sculptures”. (F.Colino-R.Droghini. Il Santuario della Madonna della Grotta in Praia a Mare. Ed. Salvati 2007)

In the second half of the 1800 a lot of work was carried out in order to improve the Sanctuary: the steps towards the cave; the entrance which was based between the first and second cave, got brought back near the entrance of the first cave; the main Altar and the two sides ones were built; below the bell tower they built some rooms for the Chaplain to live in.

On the 14th and 15th of may 1905, with a meticulously prepared programme by the Archpriest Moliterno, before the Bishops of Cassano and Policastum and before many priests and believers, the solemn Crowning of the Madonna and Child took place.

New church of the Sacro CuoreOn the 30th of November 1916 the Sanctuary was promoted to parish, being named ‘Parish of S. Maria’s Cave in Praia a Mare’. It is remained as such until 1958, when the new church dedicated to the ‘Sacro cuore’ was opened. Recently, in 2004, the church of the ‘Sacro cuore’ was completely restored.

Since the 27th of august 1977 the Sanctuary and the Parish of Santa Maria della Grotta have been put into the care of the Fathers of the Congregation of the Sons of Holy Mary Immaculate.
The Cassano’s Archbishop Domenico Vecchiano (diocese to which once the only church of Praia belonged) former pupil, when he became a priest at Institute of ‘Holy Mary Immaculate’ – via del Mascherone in Rome, because of the poor health of the vicar don Domenico Petroni, felt it would have been opportune to have a religious community worshipping Maria.
The initial refusal of the General Father, due to the lack of priests of that time, was made up for by the intervention of the Cardinal Agostino Casaroli (back then Secretary of State of the Pope Paul the VI) who used to go to Praia on summer vacation. His influence helped towards the acceptance of the Parish on the 27th of august 1977 and in september the first few vicars arrived from the Congregation.

In the last few years, from the ‘Mother Parish’ two more parishes developed: ‘St. Paul the Apostle’ (1986) in the industrial area, and ‘Jesus Christ Savior’ in Foresta district (1997).