Q: What is known about the devotion of
the Madonna del Terzito (Aeolian Islands off Sicily)
A: The Sanctuary of the Madonna del Terzito, located at the center of the isle of Salina in the territory of Leni, dates back to ancient times when a hermit built a shrine with modest dimensions with an image of Our Lady for his solitary prayer. In time, the shrine was replaced by a large church to Our Lady for the devotion of the people. The church fell into ruins after the death of the hermit and was rebuilt in 657.
Eventually the island was occupied by the Saracens and the church once more fell into disuse. Though the Saracens abandoned the island in 1080, the memory of the church was almost forgotten for another six hundred years. It was a vision received by Alphonso Mercorella in 1622 which revived the devotion of the people.
In 1622, Alphonso Mercorella and his son John went to clear some woods. As Alphonso rested during a break, he had a vision of a lady, her dress had the color of the red of roses, her mantle was as blue as the sky; she had a white veil on her head and a small bell in her right hand. Alarmed, Alphonso fled but later told the other workers what he had seen. They returned to where he had seen the vision and heard the tinkling of a bell. They cleared the ground and came upon the ruins of an ancient church. Next they uncovered a picture. It was the lady of his vision. With this recognition the tinkling of the bell stopped. Consequently, the church was rebuilt and many found comfort and healing there. Pilgrimages began to arrive from all parts of Sicily and Calabria.
Thereupon the first sanctuary of the Madonna del Terzito, hailing a copy of the original sacred image, was built.
The temple was restored in the second half of the nineteenth century and was consecrated on July 21, 1901. The sanctuary in the shape of a Latin cross is divided into three naves and shows refined and precious decorations. Inside there is a wooden statue made by an unknown author which shows the image of Our Lady from the ancient picture.
At the central altar there is a beautiful canvas showing the Virgin with a hand-bell with which she protects her people from the volcanic arc of Eolie.
During the last decades the Sanctuary has undergone some important structural changes. To the front entrance have been added two bell-towers in the last decades on the front, flanking a marble statue of Our Lady; the enclosed courtyard at the entrance to a building (parvis), has been repaired; the finely decorated major nave has been enlarged.
The first migrants from the Aeolian Islands arrived in Australia in 1880. Their beginnings here were very difficult. As their homesickness lessened, they wished to have their beloved Madonna with them. In 1929 they contemplated building a church in her honour in Sydney but their plan could not be realised at that time. However, the statue of the Madonna del Terzito was brought to Sydney and placed in the parish church of Our Lady, Queen of Peace, at Gladesville. The entire Italian colony in Sydney attended as the Apostolic Delegate, His Excellency Archbishop Cattaneo, solemnly blessed the statue of the migrant Madonna.
The celebration of the feast day was set for the fourth Sunday of July. Great crowds attended the celebrations each year. On the silver jubilee of the blessing of the statue the church was doubled in size and the Italian community donated the marble altars.
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