Every three years the inhabitants of Castro dei Volsci and of Ausonia gather for a unique religious ceremony and a popular celebration called the ‘Festival of the Meeting’ (“la Festa dell’Incontro”), and which takes place on the last Sunday in August.
The two communities meet in Castelnuovo Parano to exchange banners and the statue of Our Lady. The inhabitants of Ausonia give the statue to those of Castro to bring it to the Sanctuary in Ausonia, to the evocative and highly valued Sanctuary of the Madonna del Piano in Ausonia.
This pilgrimage that lasts three days is a reinvocation of a miraculous occurrence of over nine centuries ago.
Tradition tells that in Ausonia, a small town in the Diocese of Gaeta, there was a marshy area where local women went for abortion.
In that place on April 23, 1100 Remingarda, a shepherdess with a deformed body, was with her flock when the Virgin appeared to her. Remingarda saw a bright streak crossing the sky and fell unconscious to the ground and was awakened by the touch of the hand of the Madonna who pronounced her name.
Remingard prayed intensely to the Madonna until she reappeared for a second time and she was told to go to the village and to tell everyone to stop with their life of luxury and to build a temple in honour of Madonna according to a drawing that would appear.
The girl went to town and was immediately believed because Madonna had cured her from her deformities and this appeared as a miracle. So the next day with great solemnity, the Bishop and the priests went to the place of the miracle and there also the Virgin appeared to them.
The way in which the Madonna gave directions to the shape of the church was truly original because ants were drawing the shape of the building with organised lines on the ground. Whenever someone tried to accomplish anything outside of this design scheme, that construction fell during the night. In the end, the locals followed precisely the directions of the ants.
During the time Ausonia was building their new church, the citizens of Castro dei Volsci found their image of the Madonna was missing from the rustic Cappella del Piano, and began to search for traces of theft even in neighboring towns.
The image was found in the little church built following the directions of Remingarda near the waterfall. The citizens of Castro resumed the sacred image and brought it back with a procession to the small Cappella del Piano. To avoid new thefts, they also decided to guard it at night. Despite this, in the morning the Madonna was again missing.
They returned to the marshland of Ausonia and once again found the image in the same Church and in the same place as before. Then again they took up the image and with a new solemn procession, and songs continued back to Castro.
After a day of walking, about a couple of miles from the Chapel, at a point called Colle Nuovo where now there is a memorial niche, suddenly the sky covered with clouds and a thunderstorm hit with violent rain. The inhabitants of Castro removed their cloaks to protect the blessed image and then the rain ceased. But when the carriers approached to find out and resume the journey they realized that the image had disappeared again.
This time they went back immediately to Ausonia and found once again the picture in the usual place. They were convinced of the divine will and did not try to bring it back to Castro but decided to organize a procession every year in memory of Our Lady. Since then, the inhabitants of Castro and Ausonia are called brothers, because they are ‘afflicted’ by a common heavenly preference.
Since then, every year the Castro community with the top authorities carrying the banner of the commune went on pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Piano in Ausonia. Here they meet the authorities and the people of Ausonia with their banners. The communities exchange insignia and fraternal embraces.
And over the centuries it seems that there has never been a marriage between the inhabitants of these two towns who consider themselves brothers!
Meanwhile, in the Church of Castro dei Volsci, a new image was made in the Church of Madonna del Piano.