Madonna Della Cava Society

The Society of the Madonna Della Cava continues a nearly 800 year-old tradition of celebration of the miraculous rediscovery of an image of Our Lady in Pietraperzia, Sicily.  The Feast and Procession take place on the second or third weekend of August, and are part of a rich tradition of veneration in the Fitchburg Italian community.  Please use the following menu to peruse the information available below on the history and observance of this wonderful feast day.  Viva Maria Della Cava!

The Miracle of Madonna Della Cava
The Madonna Della Cava Society of Fitchburg, MA
The Sanctuary of Blessed Maria Della Cava, Patroness of Pietraperzia
The Devotion
Additional Information on the Shrine and Procession

The Miracle of Madonna Della Cava

By Ellen Johnston Staff Writer

In the early 13th century, in the village of Trapani, in the northwest corner of Sicily lived a young mute boy.  He had lost the ability to speak at birth.  One night, the Madonna Della Cava visited him in a dream.  She said to him:  "Come in and uncover me from the ground."  The Madonna told the young boy where she lay buried, in the nearby town of Ronzi in the central province of Enna.  The next morning, the boy awoke and tried to tell his mother about his dream.  But the mother dismissed his story, thinking it to be only his imagination.

The Madonna visited the boy in a second dream and instructed him again to come in and uncover her.  A second time, the boy told his mother about the dream and again the mother ignored her son.  Finally, a third time, the Madonna Della Cava visited the young boy in a dream.  She implored him to uncover her from the earth.  This time, the boy pleaded so strenuously to his mother that she was finally convinced that there might be some merit to his dreams.
Madonna Della Cava - Painting on the rock from Pietraperzia
Hence the mother, son, and other villagers who were equally impressed with the story of the boy's dream traveled to the town of Ronzi.  There, they began to dig in one area.  They did not find the Madonna, so they erected a shrine on the site of this digging in her honor.  Then, they again began digging in a second spot, all to no avail.  They erected still another shrine on the spot of this second excavation.  On the third effort, the people found their reward.  In the ground lay an enormous, beautifully shining stone with the image of the Madonna Della Cava painted on it. The villagers knelt and humbled themselves before this image of Madonna Della Cava.  Suddenly the little boy's speech was miraculously restored.  This is the miracle of the Madonna Della Cava.

The villagers of Trapani tried carrying this stone back to their town.  In attempting this, the stone fell to the ground and cracked.  They interpreted this as a sign that the Madonna belonged where she was uncovered.  So, they built a beautiful shrine on the spot where the Madonna was originally found.  This became the Madonna Della Cava church, which still stands today.  The stone bearing the image of the Madonna resides inside the church near the main altar.

Pope Innocencia XIII immediately declared, via Papal Doctrine, the church to be a true parish.  And the town district of Ronzi was re-named "Pietraperzia" – "Pietra" meaning "stone" or "rock" and "Perzia" meaning "town."  The Perzii (the natives of this town), still worship the Madonna Della Cava and look to her for salvation.  An annual festival is held there in Sicily on the second week of August in her honor, which has continued over the many centuries to this day.

(reproduced with permission of:

The Madonna Della Cava Society of Fitchburg, MA

At the beginning of the 20th century, a huge wave of Italian immigrants came to the United States.  During the 1910's and following World War I, many settled in what is known as "The Patch" in Fitchburg, which had previously been dominated by immigrants from Ireland and Poland.  As the Patch transformed to a predominantly Italian neighborhood, many of the villagers from Pietraperzia, a province of Sicily, Italy, congregated in their homes for monthly prayer.  They brought with them both their faith in the Madonna Della Cava and their traditional celebration in her honor.  This Madonna Della Cava Society began modestly and grew.  Soon a beautiful cloth banner bearing the Madonna's image was added, and it would be shared from home to home on a weekly basis.

By the mid-1920's, these prayer gatherings had outgrown meetings in the homes, and a three-family home was purchased on Middle and Third Streets.  The triplex housed the Pietraperzia Social Club, and a building was constructed behind the house to serve as a chapel and permanent home for the Madonna's cloth banner.  To be a member of the Pietraperzia Club, one had to have been born in Pietraperzia, been married to someone who was born there, or have descended from a family who had been born there.

Traditionally, on the second week of each August, Fitchburg celebrated the Feast of Madonna Della Cava, which coincides with the festival held in Pietraperzia, Sicily.  The traditional use of a cloth banner of the saint – rather than a statue – is based on the belief that a statue will fall and crack, just like the stone bearing the image of the Madonna once did so many centuries ago.  Typically, the Procession included two who carried the beautiful cloth banner bearing the Madonna's image.  Two boys dressed as angels would each walk to either side of the banner, and there would be an accompanying marching band.

The Procession route outlined the Patch starting on Middle Street, up and down Railroad Street, up Second Street, up Granite Street, up Salem Street, onto Canton Street, down Cleveland Street, down to Water Street, and returning to Middle Street.  For those who experienced a significant event in their lives that year, such as a marriage or death, the procession would detour to pass their home, if it was feasible.  When passing homes of those recently deceased, there would be a pause in the Procession with only the sound of the drums beating slowly.  When the Procession passed St. Anthony of Padua Church, there would be much fanfare with the bells pealing.  Accompanying the Procession would be a Festival with carnival and fireworks that would be held on Nolan Field on the upper part aside the Nolan School along Beekman Street.

During World War II, in solidarity with those processing in Italy, mothers would often march barefoot as a promise for the safe return of their sons.  It also became traditional for people to pin gold jewelry to the banner as an offering to the Madonna.

In the early 1970's, the Pietraperzia Club's three-family structure was struck by fire and suffered extensive damage.  This building was razed and the chapel was alone on the property.  The property later changed hands and has since served as a Hispanic social club.

The Procession continued for several more years, but the loss of the Pietraperzia Club adversely affected the celebration.  The Procession ceased in the mid-1970's, with the banner first cared for locally, but then sent to the Madonna Della Cava Society of the North End in Boston for safe-keeping.

In 2004, the banner was returned from the Boston Society to start this great ceremony again, that included Bishop McManus presiding.  The stewardship has been given to St. Anthony of Padua Church and remains there to this date.

In 2008, the Processions were resumed.  The Procession ended with the banner bearing the Madonna's image given a permanent shrine in St. Anthony of Padua in Fitchburg, with the permission of its pastor Rev. Robert Bruso who then presided.  A reception followed in the church hall.

The Society of the Madonna Della Cava welcomes support of every kind.

So, the next time you travel by St. Anthony of Padua Church on Salem Street, you might want to stop in and say a prayer at the shrine of the Madonna Della Cava.  Thank that small boy who hundreds of years ago brought her to us.

The Sanctuary of Blessed Maria Della Cava, Patroness of Pietraperzia

The historical origin of the Sanctuary of the Madonna Della Cava is connected with the Sacred Image which people venerate.  The Sacred Image was found again before 1223 by a mute from Trapani who went to Pietraperzia, where he found the Sacred Image.  He then immediately regained his speech and hearing.

After this discovery, a sacred shrine was erected on this site.  From that time forth, the town district of "Ronzi" was renamed "Madonna Della Cava."  This is attested to by P. Dionigi of Pietraperzia, a friar, in his "History of the Sacred Madonna Della Cava."  He also relates other facts about this in his book.

The Sacred Image was placed in the church, incorporated within the wall of the front interior of the church.  This church has become a destination for pilgrimages, and is a church of considerable importance.

In 1590, the Bishop of Catania Gianomenico conferred Don Giovanni Cesara as benefactor of Della Cava.  Near the church, small cell-like rooms were constructed with a large courtyard, but the main floor of the church was left to accommodate people.

In the 14th century, the hermits took perpetual care of the church, but in the 17th century, the hermits began to disappear.  The maintenance and care of the church was continued along with the administration of the Sacraments and care of the souls of the people who visited the church.

Pope Innocence the 13th, via Papal Bull, made it a parish.

The Devotion

Traditionally, devotion to the Madonna Della Cava includes veneration of the image, participation in the annual Procession, and prayer of the Hail Mary and Most Holy Rosary in Italian, along with the singing of the Ave Maria.  All are welcome to pray or learn to pray in Italian.  Also, the Madonna understands all languages and all are welcomed to pray in their native tongue while practicing the tenets of this humble and holy devotion.

Additional Information on the Shrine and Procession

The Procession is planned for about the second or third weekend of August, depending on the calendar.  As dates are set, information on the Procession is available through contacting the St. Anthony of Padua office as below:

84 Salem Street
Fitchburg, MA 01420