La Madonna della Bruna in Matera

Wed, 07/01/2009 - 05:35
Words by Michelle Fabio

We've talked about the Black Madonna of Sovereto, and now it's time for La Madonna della Bruna in Matera, Basilicata.

You may already know Matera as the home of "I Sassi," cave houses carved directly out of the volcanic rock of the town. Matera's Sassi are certified as a UNESCO World Heritage site and also served as a backdrop for part of Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ.

But back to the Madonna! Every July 2, a festival is held in honour of the Madonna della Bruna (brown), so-called because the old image of her in the town's Duomo once had a distinctly brown hue (restorations have since made her rather pale); the celebration dates back to 1389 upon the proposal of Pope Urban VI.

Just as with many religious festivities, there is a procession (in this case "dei Pastori" or "of shepherds"), men in costume on horseback, huge arches of light that guide the way through the streets, and lots of fireworks afterwards. But the most unique part of this celebration is surely the "Carro Trionfale," an enormous cart transported through the town like a float. The Carro Trionfale is decorated in papier-mâché--indeed Matera even has schools to train students in the art.

Within a matter of minutes, though, the cart is obliterated by the young men of the town, ripping it apart piece by piece to the cheers of the crowd. Their youth represents new ideas and hope tearing down the vestiges of the old ways; this rebirth is intended to carry over in the fields, where increased fertility will hopefully provide an even better crop than the previous year.

For a fabulous firsthand account of this unique festival, head over to James Martin's Europe Travel site.

Have you visited Matera?