Words by Michelle Fabio

From 11-15 September, the small town of Misterbianco, Sicily, eight kilometres outside of Catania, will celebrate La Festa della Madonna degli Ammalati. The festival honours the Madonna for her miraculous salvation of the sanctuary that bears her name when Mt. Etna erupted and covered the rest of the town in lava in 1669.

As the story goes, when rebuilding the area around the sanctuary in the mid-1700s, a priest discovered that only the faces of the Madonna and the baby Jesus in her arms were left, so he painted in the rest of the painting himself.

Now the town holds a five-day festival celebrating this miracle. On Thursday evening, men carry the 51 kilogram bell rescued from the lava from its normal resting place in Misterbianco’s Chiesa Madre, or Mother-Church, to another of the town’s churches; the next morning at sunrise, the bell is carried another five kilometres to the Sanctuary of the Madonna degli Ammalati.

After Mass and more celebrations on Saturday, the most emotional part of the event comes on Sunday in the form of “La Cantata” in which hundreds of the faithful link arms, sway, dance and sing praises to the Madonna. On Monday, there is a procession of a painting of the Madonna of the Sick holding Jesus throughout the town followed by a fireworks display.

See some of the festivities in these YouTube clips:

Next week, we’ll be staying in southern Italy but travelling north to the home of Pizza Margherita.

Can you guess the festa?