The Sanctuary of the Black Madonna in Tindari, Sicily

* Have you joined The Ultimate Blog Party? See my welcome post here! *

We’re back in Sicily today, dear readers, to visit Tindari (Tyndaris), an ancient Greek settlement in the comune of Patti.

I’ll tell you more about the history of this once vibrant city overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea another day when we tour the ruins of Tindari, but today’s feature is the Sanctuary of the Black Madonna (Santuario della Madonna Nera).

Santuario della Madonna Nera/Sanctuary of the Black Madonna, Tindari, Sicily on Flickr

The original church, which had been built on top of the old city’s ruins, was destroyed by Algerian pirates in 1544, then reconstructed between 1552 and 1598; the sanctuary was expanded in 1979 when a new, larger church was built on the site.

The whole grounds are just lovely; indeed, here is a fabulous mosaic that you’ll see on the walk up to the church doors. I don’t know who he is, but he sure looks peaceful and content, doesn’t he?

Mosaic, Tindari, Sicily on Flickr

I should mention that the phenomenon of Black Madonnas around the world is interesting in and of itself, and you can read more about it here.

The Black Madonna in Tindari, carved of cedar, has a few legends attached to her, some of which include how she got there in the first place.

Black Madonna/Madonna Nera, Tindari, Sicily on Flickr

One legend says that sailors, having sought refuge from a storm in the bay of Tindari, found themselves unable to ship back out to sea.

They began unloading their cargo little by little until they realized that it was the Black Madonna herself that needed to stay in Tindari, so they carried her up to the small church on the hill, and she has remained there ever since.

Another legend says that the statue was brought from the Middle East (its likely origin regardless of how it ended up in Tindari) to protect Sicily during the Iconoclastic Wars in the 8th century.

And these aren’t the only legends surrounding the Black Madonna. See this lagoon?

Lagoon, Tindari, Sicily on Flickr

It is said to have been created when a mother coming to visit the sanctuary refused to pray to the Madonna because she was black. When the woman’s baby slipped from her grasp into the sea below, the Madonna made parts of the land rise to save the baby and the lagoon was born.

Another interesting feature of the Madonna Nera is the inscription “Nigra sum sed formosa” at the base of the statue. It means “I am black but beautiful” and comes from the Old Testament’s Song of Songs, although the precise relationship between the biblical phrase and the Black Madonna is widely debated.

Some of you from the New York/New Jersey area may have already heard of the Black Madonna of Tindari as Sicilian immigrants have honored her since the early 20th century–for more information on this connection, check out a great article by Joseph Sciorra discussing the history of The Black Madonna of East Thirteenth Street as well as a short piece from The New York Times.

And, before we go, another gorgeous view looking down from the Sanctuary:

Lagoon, Tindari, Sicily

Pure tranquility and beauty in Tindari.

I highly recommend a visit.

22 Beans of Wisdom to “The Sanctuary of the Black Madonna in Tindari, Sicily”
  1. Gil

    Thank you for another extremely interesting post. Love the pictures.

    Thanks Gil; Tindari should definitely be on your itinerary when you get a chance to explore Sicily…more photos coming. The ruins are *fabulous*. Also, I hope you’re clicking on the photos to take you to the larger version and to more at Flickr!

  2. 03.11.2008

    lovely tour through this interesting place…I love the mosaic, very vivid πŸ™‚

    erin’s last blog post..festa della donna & a bike ride

    The mosaic was truly amazing; there are lots of mosaics there including huge panels that tell the story of the Black Madonna–but those were behind an iron gate so I could only see them from a distance and the photos really don’t convey how amazing they are πŸ™

  3. 03.11.2008

    As always – your posts are very educational -and your photos make one feel you are there beside you as you give your “tour guide” speech. Now, all I need is a great big winning lottery ticket so I can travel and see these beautiful and interesting places for myself. Till then though, I’ll do it vicariously with you leading me through Italy.

    Jeni Hill Ertmer’s last blog post..Sunday Sample

    Glad you enjoyed the virtual tour Jeni; it’s great to be able to share these lesser known sites that many will never get to. So happy you’re along for the ride πŸ™‚

  4. Joanne

    Holy Childhood memories batman! Everytime I’ve been to Sicily I’ve gone to Tindari. I had to talk my grandmother out of doing the pilgrimage one year (walking up the mountain in August heat – she was 85 at the time) and there were always ‘santini’ of the Madonna in our house. The first time I went (I was 4) my grandmother told me the story about the mother and the child that fell into the sea. I had nightmares about it, which is why I remember it so vividly. I am just loving touring with you! Cheap and I didn’t have to pack!

    Joanne’s last blog post..Festa Italiana

    Um yes, I think I would’ve had nightmares about the child falling into the sea too. Thanks for sharing your memories! I love it! And I’m so happy that you’re on the tour. More Tindari coming soon–whole post on the ruins πŸ™‚

  5. 03.11.2008

    Very beautiful. That water is soooo blue!!! Makes me want to dive right in off the rocks πŸ˜‰

    I think the church is unique looking too! I love all the Italian stories…true or stretching it a bit…either way they are always entertaining!

    My Melange’s last blog post..The Ultimate Blog Party

    This is definitely a cool place, and yes, I love the stories too πŸ™‚

  6. Wunschdenker


    Remember the many references in The Secret Life of Bees to the Black Madonna? Veeeerdy *IN*terestink, no?!

    We’re just all about “coincidences” these days aren’t we?

  7. 03.11.2008

    I love these beautiful pictures and snippets of Italy. So beautiful!

    bella’s last blog rained but we still had fun

    Thanks Bella; nice to see you as always πŸ™‚

  8. Michelle, what great photos and I love reading about these legends and traditions.

    Isn’t there a Black Madonna in the Positano church?

    nyc/caribbean ragazza’s last blog post..New York’s crime busting Governor is “caught” in a prostitution ring.

    You made me look, and sure enough, our girl in Positano wrote a post about the portrait of Positano’s Black Madonna who actually played a huge role in how the town got its name πŸ™‚

  9. 03.11.2008

    Oh, I’d hoped we’d be back in Sicily today! Loved the Madonna legends. I learn a lot coming to your blog! πŸ™‚

    Those views are gorgeous too.

    kacey’s last blog post..I Do Not Understand Males

    I’m happy to hear you’re enjoying the Sicily posts in particular; it’s a great incentive to keep traveloguing πŸ˜‰

  10. 03.11.2008

    Oh, I can’t believe I was away when you came to Sicily! I’m happy to see you enjoyed yourself… I look forward to reading about your trip!

    Jill’s last blog post..And we’re off…

    I know, bad timing…next time though!

  11. 03.11.2008

    How gorgeous it is! I love the photos, history and legends you mix in.

    Julie Pippert’s last blog post..For my friend, on the occasion of her 37th piece of trying news

    Thanks Julie, and thanks for stopping by πŸ™‚

  12. 03.11.2008

    rick steves doesn’t do sicilia very well so i am thinking i will weave your posts together for our southern trip advising! your insights are quite helpful!

    qualcosa di bello’s last blog post..the wonder of it all…

    Anything I can do to help, you just let me know!

  13. Maryann

    I’m enjoying your series on Sicily. This is especially interesting. Thanks for taking me on the armchair tour πŸ™‚

    Maryann’s last blog post..Homemade Manicotti

    Happy to have you along Maryann!

  14. Gil

    Don’t worry I have checked out the larger versions and the other beautiful photos on Flickr!

    Glad to hear it πŸ™‚

  15. 03.11.2008

    Oh it looks so beautiful, I can’t wait to go. Thanks for all the great information.

    PS I’ve been dreaming about bearded men too, but I think it’s just too much Jovanotti. Now that’s one cute beard.

    amanda’s last blog post..Bones and stones

    Ah yes, Jovanotti will certainly do it….

  16. 03.12.2008

    Miiiiiiiiiii!!! Gorgeous, gorgeous pics. And the dude in the mosaic reminds me of the Dalai Lama.

    Linda’s last blog post..It’s a Masala Festa!!!

    Yes Linda, that’s who I thought of too; there was some writing in the mosaic in the lower left corner, but I couldn’t make it out even with my zoom (this was behind a fence or something else blocking access–can’t remember). Thought it might be odd to have the Dalai Lama on a Catholic pilgrimage site, but it would certainly be awesome πŸ™‚

  17. DanaB

    I’m LOVING your blog, thanks so much for these guided tours with such detailed stories/info and stellar photos!


    DanaB’s last blog post..Wordless Wednesday: The Rails

    Oh thank *you* Dana for coming by and letting me know how much you’re enjoying it πŸ™‚

  18. 03.12.2008

    I’m loving these posts, and your gorgeous photos.

    Bipolarlawyercook’s last blog post..A Mary Oliver poem while my thoughts collect themselves

    Happy to hear it BLC…lots more coming!

  19. Sandy

    Hi Michelle – I love your post. Just a little tidbit – my grandfather, who was from Sicily, had the first name of Tindaro. I always wondered where this name came from and now I know. Thanks!!

    That is *so* interesting! Thanks for sharing Sandy!

  20. Those pictures are beautiful! Sicily is where my family left when they came to the U.S., but I would love to visit there someday!

    Lots more Sicily photos coming! Stay tuned πŸ™‚

  21. Fr. Peter De Franco

    Thanks for the information on the Black Madonna of Tindari. I have wanted to secure a statue of the Black Madonna of Tindari. Would you know if there were statues of the Black Madonna at the shrine?
    Fr. Peter De Franco

    Thank you for reading and for you comment, Father.

    I actually didn’t get to go in all the shops in the Sanctuary complex as I had to catch a train, so I’m not sure exactly what’s available there. I know a fellow American blogger who lives in the nearby town of Olivieri, Sharon of Respiri di Vita. Perhaps she might know more.

    If you still can’t find anything out, though, let me know, and we can try to contact the diocese if you like; if you read/write in Italian, this is homepage of the Diocese of Patti’s Sanctuary of Tindari.

    Best of luck!

  1. [...] visited the Sanctuary of the Black Madonna in Tindari, and now it’s time to tour the [...]...
Michelle FabioMichelle Fabio is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer living in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy and savoring simplicity one sip at a time. 

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