Madonna del Mirto

Q: Who is the Madonna del Mirto—Our Lady of the Myrtle?

A: She is a Sicilian Madonna, patroness of the little town Villafranca Sicula and two nearby villages, Burgio and Lucca Sicula. The origin is legendary, as is the case for many Marian Sanctuaries and titles. According to the legend, a friar was carrying two images of Madonna to his convent when he realized that he had lost one. Coming back, he found the picture among some shrubs of myrtle, picked it up, and brought it to the monastery.

Alas, the next day the small image had disappeared. The monk found it in the same shrubs of myrtle as the previous day. The obvious conclusion, reached not only by the monk, but also by the people of the surrounding area villages of Villafranca, Burgio and Lucca Sicula, was that the Madonna wanted a shrine built to her there, right there among the myrtles.

This happened sometime in the seventeenth century, probably around 1654. Every year the feast of Our Lady of the Myrtle was celebrated on the second Sunday of May. Nowadays the celebration takes place on the third Sunday of August. It is a feast of great popular enthusiasm. Accompanied by effigies of St. John and the archangel St. Michael, the patron saints of Burgio and Lucca Sicula, the image of Our Lady of the Myrtle is carried in procession through the town of Villafranca. Then follows the custom of the riattiati, a joyous dance of both statues and people. The five-hundred-year-old Church of Our Lady of the Myrtle was heavily damaged by the earthquake of 1968; and the image of Our Lady of the Myrtle is now in the Church of Our Lady of Carmel. The original title was not Our Lady the Myrtle but "Madonna del Buon Riposo" (Our Lady of Good Rest). Several legends similar to the one told here, provoked the change of name.

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