The church of Piedigrotta: an art treasure in Pizzo Calabro

In Pizzo Calabro, one of the most visited towns in the province of Vibo Valentia, is a place of extraordinary beauty, an enchanting place on the border between history and legend: the Church of Piedigrotta.

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A simple façade defines this ravine, this space imbued with a sacred ancestry; on the roof is an iron cross and the statue of the Madonna and Child, protector of all seafarers.

The legend, the origins of this place, increase the wonder for the visitor who first time enters the walls of the church, being in a timeless place of rare beauty, a treasure of art in stone.

For hundreds of years, the legend has been passed down of a shipwreck – although there are no written records that attest to it – occurred around the middle of the ‘600s: a violent storm erupts in the Gulf of St. Euphemia surprising the Neapolitan crew of a sailboat. The sailors, fearing for their lives, began to pray to the Madonna of Piedigrotta, whose effigy was hung in the captain’s cabin. They made a vow to the Virgin that, in the event of salvation, they would erect a chapel in her honour.

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The castaways, now safe, fulfilled the promise made, and dug into the rock, erecting a small chapel where they placed the sacred image.

Legend has it that there were other storms that followed and the picture of the Madonna, carried away by the fury of the waves, was always found in the place where the ship had crashed against the rocks.

Later, around 1880, the story continues, with a local artist, Angelo Barone, who had a small stationery shop in the town center, fascinated by the stories of the sailors of the village of Piedigrotta, captured by this place so full of mystical beauty, he decided to leave everything and dedicate himself to the enlargement of the cave: hard work carried out with just a pickaxe.

After enlarging the cave, the artist sculpted into large blocks of rock, statues depicting the life of Jesus and the saints. Barone devoted himself to his endeavour until the end of his days.1

An immense artistic heritage, enclosed in a large display case in silence, punctuated by only the undertow, preserved and perpetuated by his son Alfonso, who completed his father’s work, carving capitals with angels, bas-reliefs with religious scenes, statues of St. George slaying the dragon (patron saint of the city of Pizzo), St. Francis of Paola crossing the Strait of Messina, St. Anthony of Padua with the orphans and other groups of statues, frescoes on the ceiling of the nave and the main alter.

No one continued the work of Alfonso Barone after his death.  However, in 1969 the sculptor Giorgio Barone, (grandson of the two artists) returned from Canada, where he had emigrated, partly restored the church and sculpted in a corner two medallions depicting Pope John XXIII and John Kennedy.piedigrotta2

Today, the Church of Piedigrotta is one of the favorite tourist destinations in Calabria.