Visit to the Sanctuary

The entrance of the Sanctuary

Out of the CaveWhen you arrive in the middle of Praia a Mare, going to the Maiorana Street and underpass the railway bridge, you can see the Sanctuary and arrive it by a ramp paved with sea’s pebble.
To encourage reflection and meditation in the climb to the Sanctuary in 1995 was made an artistic ‘Via Crucis’. The 14 station in mosaic made (with small pebble of local beach) are the work of Praia’s artist ‘Vittoria Gallori’.

Steps of the first cave entranceAfter 53 steps we arrive finally at the entrance. The surface of the Sanctuary, without the external ground is 1.994,75 square meters. The great cave consist of three caves posed on a different level, each one with a natural large opening to the outside where enters air, light and sun in the afternoon.

The first Cave

The first CaveThe first cave is at the gate of entry, it has a rectangular shape and an area of 291,79 square meters.
On the right you can see, protected by a little gate, the large boulder on which rounded in 1326, according to the ‘legend’, was placed the statue of the Madonna and Child. In the room on the left in 1992, with the help of the faithful, it was made a permanent artistic CRIB.

The second Cave

The second CaveAfter 40 steps and three landings, we enter in the second Cave (the biggest: 1.478,96 square meters; height about 15 meters). The floor is in the mould and is almost always wet from dripping down to the vault. Almost in the middle there is a well that pick up a thin vein of water falling from the vault.
On the right we can see a holy water font with a circular basin built certainly when the door of the Sanctuary was located between the first and the second cave.
On the right side we can see still some evidence of burial tomb took place in the Cave until the beginning of ’900.
Always on the right side there is the Chapel built by the bishop Tiberio Casentino in the XVI Century, on the altar is located a white marble statue of the Madonna and Child known as the ‘Madonna of the Snow’, almost certainly a work of Gaggini ‘school’ (always in the XVI Century).
On the left we can see the protected area of excavation made by the Institute of Human Paleontology (University of Rome) in a first phase from 1957 to 1970 and in a second phase began in 2001 and still not fully completed.

The excavations“The excavation materials of Praia’s cave, in agreement between the Italian Institute of Paleontology and Calabria Region, were transported to Lipari in the Aeolian Museum, where it was easier to perform the study, the restoration, the graphics documentation and photographs and the inventory. It was especially important the collaboration of the Prof. Italo Biddittu, who spent two summers in Lipary primarily to review and study the excavation newspaper of the campaigns in which he participated… The excavation materials were made an inventory in the registers of the Archaeological Museum of Reggio Calabria, which they returned at the end of the study”. (Memories of the Italian Institute of Human Paleontology: THE CAVE OF THE SANCTUARY OF MADONNA – Praia a mare – Cosenza. LEVELS HOLOCENE. Roma 2000)

The third Cave

The third CaveGetting over the stairs located on the right side of the second cave you can enter in the CAVE–CHAPEL (20 meters long and about 11 metres high) with a rectangular surface of 224 square meters.
On the right it possible to see the characteristics millenarians concretions on which permanently flow a thin vein of water.

The chapelOn the bottom’s cave there is the high altar where in a “niche” is placed the statue of the Madonna. The altar was erected in 1980 by the Archpriest Nicola Moliterni with the offers of the faithful. Pope Pius X made this altar “privileged” for every day in perpetuity. In the Holy Years 1925 the benefactor Raffaele Perrone (emigrated on Brazil) donated at the Chapel the decorated crystals placed in two large windows on the side’s niche of the Madonna.

The Cave–Chapel is lit up by a natural opening behind the High Altar. In some hours of the afternoon the bright bundle of the sun penetrating inside and with its golden light lit up the vault of the Cave–Chapel producing effects of extraordinary beauty.

The Rectory and the Bell-tower

The look-outFrom the second cave, we can turn’s one steps towards the opening and we arrive at the ‘LOOK-OUT’ (panoramic view of Praia, of the Dino’s Isle and of the Policastro’s gulf). On the right there are the Rectory and the Bell-tower.

“It is located adjacent the small cave which were inhabited by the ‘Oblates’ to the care of the Sanctuary and it consists in three buildings: the Bell-tower, the one floor construction and the Chaplain’s building. The Rectory complex combines the typical local dwellings with stairs on the air and balconies set on the arches of stone.

The rectoryThe expansions of the Rectory is varied and articulated: it built according to the minor architecture, developing a series of environments and outdoor spaces that are as varied requirements, it recovering all the space available sometimes wedged into the rock surrounding, sometimes making the same building as a natural elements.

It possible to enter into the complex through a small courtyard where there is collocated the entrance of the Cloister, of the one floor construction and the Bell-tower.
The small Cloister, with an irregular trapezoid shape is close by the buildings on three sides and by a high wall on south–west, it is the fulcrum around which the whole wheel.

The two floor building has on the ground floor a porch with round arches set on squat columns of round corners, through which is possible to access in five small rooms of a different size to accommodate the pilgrims who came to visit the Sanctuary. The first compartment is characteristic because the back wall and the ceiling are bare rock.

The staircase leads to the small terrace by columns with round arches as a little lodge, from which it is possible to enter in the apartment and in another room used today as a deposit but long before as a pantry. This deposit develops as a long and narrow corridor between the building’s wall and the rock wall.

The house is formed by four rooms where the final part has protrusions and indentations are due to their need to recover more space possible.
The one floor building was originally intended as a house of the Chaplain and it has two entrances: the first one directly from the courtyard and the other one from the inside court. Originally it was formed by two rooms, now it has been transformed in a single room.

The bellThe Bell-tower construction was made before the house construction and probably at the end of the XVIII century. It built in a regular plan with the same technique of the Rectory. One of the four sides is made up completely from the rocky wall where is lean; like the staircase where the stairs made in brick is alternate at the stairs dug directly into the rock.
The bells have a strong historical value not only for the Sanctuary but for all local community. The oldest bell was locate in the belfry turned to north and reported the writing ‘Anno Domini 1789′. This bell had been placed on the entrance of the Sanctuary and then moved on the Bell-tower. The bad condition that it had been in 1984 took recast and to restored in situ in may of the same year.

Another bell trustworthy is that belonging at the steamship ‘Umballa’ sunk in 1917 by austrian submarine near the Dino Isle. The bell, called ‘Santa Maria of the Victory’, was placed in 1918 on the opening turned to south. The other bells are placed in the terrace of the bell-tower”. (F.Colino-R.Droghini. Il Santuario della Madonna della Grotta in Praia a Mare. Ed. Salvati 2007)