The oldest festival of Artena, the belief in the Madonna delle Grazie is witnessed by the Cristi Infiorati (Statue of Christ surrounded by arrangements of flowers) and by a mass of flowers that mark the path and the streets of the village.
From an icon on a wall along the road that leads to the village of Artena (link), we understand that the worship of the Madonna delle Grazie is very old and dates back to some period between 1400 and 1500.
The history of the statue is different and there is no news of it until the mid-1600s, when some peasants heard the sound of a bell coming from a chasm and found it. The statue of lime wood represents a gentle standing Virgin who supports the Blessed Child.
The peasants managed to bring the statue to the Church of Santa Maria delle Letizie, where it was placed in the chapel of San Lorenzo. We do not know precisely the year of the arrival of the image in Santa Maria, but perhaps it was between 1682 and 1685.
The first Procession took place on May 19, 1731, and since then the worship of the Madonna delle Grazie has grown dramatically among the inhabitants of Artena, becoming a bond in the community and an event that cannot be renounced.
Here is an observation concerning the festival, that seems to come true annually. Every Artenese feels the duty to give something to “his” Madonna delle Grazie. Some do it by grace received, others instead do it as a sign of affection for the Virgin Mary.
A bourgeois house minister at the time wrote: “How many are and will be the Montefortinesi, how much are and will be the funds to keep the festival and the confraternity of Santa Maria”
Montefortino is the ancient name of Artena. For an Artenese, talking about the Procession of the Madonna delle Grazie is like talking about a piece of his or her life, since Madonna is the true owner of all the people, who venerate her and adore her. Few religious phenomena are so enduring in this strong way.
The festival dedicated to the Madonna delle Grazie by Artena is celebrated every year on the Saturday of the third Sunday of May.
The statue “exits” from the Church of Santa Maria delle Letizie and through the streets of the centre reaches the new part of the city. Late in the evening the statue “rises” up to the Church of Santa Croce, where it remains displayed for a week. The following Sunday the Sacred effigy is “brought back” to the Church of Santa Maria delle Letizie, where it will remain for a whole year.
Before the procession, the statue of the Madonna must be adorned with a brocade dress and a sumptuous robe from a maiden girl who must also cover it with necklaces and gold bracelets donated by the people.
The procession is opened by a tambourine that marks the time of the steps of the procession. Immediately following is the banner held by the younger children, dressed as little angels, sisters and nuns. They are all dressed in white and immediately after a row of pageboys, then the brides and all the other women.
In 1857 the roles were formalized of the “infioratori” who had the task of decorating the chapel in the main square with flowers, creating a panel of flowers that reproduced a mystery of the Virgin.
Since then the idea arose to decorate the Cristi Infiorati, by the confraternities with a multitude of flowers, in artistic arrangements then passed down by a member of each confraternity.
Born as pure embellishment to celebrate the sacredness of the rite, today this tradition has become an essential part of the procession and offers a unique show of love, faith and religious folklore.
Do not miss it at all!