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HISTORY OF THE MADONNA ASSUNTA (THE VIRGIN OF ASSUMPTION)

The Assunta celebration is one of the most profound but less known traditions in the phlegreian land. But how is it born the devotion for the Madonna Assunta (the Virgin of Assumption)? What the roots of a tradition which mixes, as so often happens, sacred and profane, popular beliefs and religious precepts?A fascinating story, which mirrors the history itself of the birth and the growth of the city from the first nomad groups of peasants coming from the isle of Procida, who came to establish on the cliffs straight down to the sea of the Monte, in seventeenth century, to the present days. And in more than four centuries of history, the Assunta never stopped being worshipped. When the first colonists coming from Procida started to settle down in the lands owned by cardinal Filomarino, to work in the fields, vineyards and vegetables were verdant through the whole headland and the Virgin’s patronage was yet invoked as to she granted a huge harvest. Then the inhabitants of Monte bounded for the sea routes, and to the Virgin they made vows at every crossing, as she watched over the sea and the destiny of those who sailed challenging the waves for fishing or commerce. The navy of Monte di Procida became, soon, one of the best in the “land of fire” and the devotion even deeper than before. To participate to the celebration, over all for those who were far away, represented a most important event: to miss it was considered more serious than not being home at Christmas or Easter.

“Mo’ ‘a stann’ acalann’”, “Mo sta ascenne”, “Mo sta ‘nfaccio ‘i bbricce”, “‘Ngopp’ ‘i ggruce”, “‘Ngopp’ ‘u cercon’”,”‘Ngopp’ i’ ccase”, “Stà for’ ‘u mar’”, “For’ ‘u scappuccio”, “For ‘a torr”, “Sta arrivann’ ‘a gghies’”, “For ‘u pont’”, “Mo sta trasenn’”

…Phrases that sailors kept repeating to one another: in every point of the world they were, from the ship’s boy to the captain, they followed by heart the procession, to which they could not be present in person; with eyes bright of emotion they could hardly hide, they accompanied the various moments of the ceremony with the sound of the siren. To sum up, even in the back of beyond, they followed the Virgin, they too were “Appriess’ a Maronna” united in spirit to whom, remained in the city to wait for them, was following the statue, eventually praying for them.

And when so many people were obliged to emigrate “a’ Maronn” followed them.
And they rewarded Her with a devotion profound and full of nostalgia for the native land so far, of which the Assunta represented an unforgettable “piece”, to the point that they organized a “Festa d’a Madonna” even in the States, with the same statue, a perfect copy of the Assunta by Verzella kept in the parish church in the central square, if it was completely impossible to come home for the 15th of August to follow the procession, to be grateful for the fortunes granted and repay the vows fulfilled.

The devotion for the Virgin of Assumption in Monte di Procida is still wrapped in mistery. Many scholars tried to reconstruct the beginning of a faith who dugs his roots in the dawning of the Monte community. Many theories have been put forward concerning why none but the Virgin had been chosen as patron of the city. A puzzle still missing many plugs that historian are patiently attempting to recollect.

Probably, at the bases of this faith and its diffusion, there’s a kind of oral tradition which, from father to son, has handed down tales oscillating between legend, religion and historical truth. For instance, it’s said that the painting (an end of ‘700 anonimous’ canvas, exposed til last year, in the side aisle and now under repair) was found on the beach and brought in the chapel that was named after it.

The more reliable historical hypothesis, besides, states that the devotion for the Virgin of Assumption was spread due to the intervention of the Curia of Naples, owning, in 1600, the lands of the headland of Monte di Procida and that, in 1644, built the church consecrating it to the same Virgin of Assumption to whom the cathedral of Naples was dedicated since 1371.

There is also who believes that it was the faith of a landlord, named Isclano or Schiano, to determine the origins of the worshipping of the Virgin of Assumption: it’s said, infact, he dedicated to her the family chapel that, in time, would become the church of nowadays. It was, then, cardinal Ascanio Filomarino who, in 1644, gave his blessing to the growth of the devotion for the Virgin in the church of Monte di Procida so small in those days; it was, besides, only in 1655 that the church was visited by the first bishop. In 1750, in 1758 and again in 1772, the chapel was progressively extended, also because the number of the parishioners was growing at the same rate with the rise of the population, so that the population increase, huge for those times, lead, in 1814 the followers, under the guide of vicar Michele Lomoriello and priests Francesco Di Abusco and Nicola Romeo Di Santillo and of canonical Andrea Iorio, to commission a statue of the Virgin of Assumption for their church.

The governor of the church, Domenico Scotto di Santolo, ordered the statue to the neapolitan sculptor Francesco Verzella, paying 352 ducals, a very high price for that period. And all the same the faith of people from Monte di Procida made the “miracle” and the statue of the famous sculptor, who will also be called in Vatican, was placed in the little church of the community. In this occasion, the church was further enlarged and in 1816 a cherry tree wooden niche and a silver crown trimmed with stars were bought.

When the society of Monte di Procida turned to rural into maritime, the procession of the Assunta, which used to take place on the first sunday after Whitsun, was moved to the 15th of August. In 1854, the bishop Raffaele Purpo ordered the building of the christening font while, in 1859, the final enlargement of the church was carried out. Only in 1887, besides, the bishop Gennaro De Vivo consecrated the church of Monte di Procida as parish dedicated to the Virgin of Assumption.

Two years later, in 1889, on the 75th anniversary from the building of the church, the statue of the Assunta was solemnly crowned, in an evocative ceremony from bishop Gennaro De Vivo himself. On the head of the Verzella statue, the prelate put a precious gold crown given by the population.

In the past the processions in honour of the patron were three: on the Ascension Day, for her blessing granted a good harvest: on the 15th of August, to make vows for her patronage on the sailors, and in september to thank for the harvest.

Nowadays it lasts “only” the procession on 15th of August, whose evocative and solemn fascination remains unaltered in the soul of everyone from Monte who, no matter whether they are here or far from their land, believers or not, ever keep a special place in them for their patron, an affection, a devotion that never changed, over centuries of history.

Fabiana Scotto di Perta
(Translated by the author)

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