Italian version                                                                                           English version





On August 18th, after the procession and the Holy Mass, we celebrated with a picnic in the field next to the river, under the shade of the ancient beech trees. The morning after, “the Hunchback” shot off some firecrackers to give us the signal that it was time to get ready. “The Hunchback”, which was the nickname given to the owner of the fireworks company, believed that it was his holy duty to wake up the people at that time, when it was still dark. Those who had gone before the procession had already left to walk up the path before sunrise. People from every village in the valley walked up the paths in the fresh night air make the pilgrimage to the Sanctuary. Many others would have walked up following the image of the Madonna. 

Women and girls, dressed up in beautiful traditional local costumes, balanced baskets full of food on their heads, while others balanced (in the baskets on their heads!) their newborns.


I was amazed to see how agile and confident they were as they walked up the paths with their baskets on their heads and their hands on their hips, chatting and laughing.


At certain moments, it seemed like the basket was wobbling and was about to fall, but these women, with their straight heads and without the help of their hands, were able to keep it in perfect balance.


Many of them were even walking barefoot, some because of a vow, others to ask for grace. Even my mother had done that walk barefoot. 

Interspersed among them, there were even families that went up with their donkeys, loaded with supplies. In the big baskets on the sides of the animal, little heads of children popped up. Tied to the saddle we could see pots, pans and bundles. The father would lead the donkey taking the bridle, while the woman, looking for help along the rocky path holding on the tail of the animal.

 Around dawn, they arrived at the top of the Rock. They had walked up the steepest path. The rest of the trip would have been downhill, under the shade of the beech trees that had sheltered pilgrims for centuries from the rays of the hot sun.


At the top of the mountain they briefly stopped at the Statue of Don Bosco. They had a little break, rested and resumed their walk. From the mountain, the view of the valley and the villages was beautiful.

 In the mean time, in the village the procession started. The statue of the Madonna appeared at the entrance of the church, carried on the shoulders of the men. They stopped under the arch with the images facing the mountains while the “Hunchback” made the mountains resound with the sound of his firecrackers and lit up the sky to honor the Pilgrim Mother of the Mountains.

 We, the girls of the Azione Cattolica, were waiting on the sides of the steps. The faithful, gathered under the steps, were waiting for the procession to start to get behind the statue and accompany it, singing “Evviva Maria” until we reached Canneto.

This was the moment that we were all waiting for; to show off our new clothes to everyone. We cast furtive glances around at the other girls to appraise the competition and see if some "one" had a dress that was more beautiful than ours.

 We walked all in a line, in front of the statue, for the entire procession. Once we arrived at the Madonna delle Grazie, which is at the end of the village, the statue was made ready to prepare it for the trip up the steep path. A white sheet was wrapped around her light blue dress, to protect it from bushes and branches that were all along the path. Before they started walking, two women with two donkeys arrived and went to either side of the statue. Those were the comfortable and modern means that the archpriest and the abbot made available for the journey. The women took the donkey and led him along the rocky paths, proud of the honored service they were offering. 

At times behind the statue, sometimes in front of it, we would walk with our friends along the sunny country roads and under the shade of beech trees, where the sun’s rays only slightly penetrated through the thick branches. Before arriving at the Sanctuary, everyone stopped to prepare the Madonna to enter the church. The sheet that had protected the statue along the path was removed and the light blue mantel was adjusted to remove all wrinkles. Even the gold and diamond crown was adjusted with precision, together with the golden necklace donated by those who had received a grace. The priests unloaded the donkey and walked up to the statue, which they were about to accompany on foot. The procession was reorganized again and with hymns and chants, they arrived in Canneto. The square in front of the church was already crowded with people that were waiting for Mary, singing and waving flags with the symbols of their own churches and greeting the procession.

 After the ritual in church, everyone went to Prato di Mezzo looking for a spot with a nice breeze next to the banks of the Melfa.


Delia Socci Skidmore