Sanctuary of Montenero

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The Santuario Madonna delle Grazie, best known as the Santuario della Madonna di Montenero, is at a small distance from the city of Livorno, being only 10 km away. It is one of the most visited ones by the Tuscans, also because the Madonna of Montenero is the patron saint of the whole region. In addition to visiting the Church, the Caves and the Galleria dei Comuni  you can enjoy fantastic views over most part of the Livorno coast. Whether you happen to be here for your summer vacations or for a visit to Livorno or Pisa, we strongly recommend that you also visit the wonderful monastery rich in history and ancient traditions such as those of the Montenero ex-votos. There are hundreds kept alive thanks to the graces received by the faithful in Tuscany and beyond.

MONTENERO (LIVORNO) HOW TO ARRIVE. The Sanctuary of Montenero, Livorno, is located at 300 metres above sea level and therefore offers panoramic views of everything beneath: the city of Livorno with its port and the plain that surrounds it up to Pisa, Elba Island, Corsica and in the most beautiful days even to Sardinia. From up there one of the first things you will see is the cliff of Meloria, theatre of the battle between Genoa and Pisa. Getting to the Montenero Sanctuary is pretty simple. The most picturesque way is with the Livorno funicular: if you have children this option is a must, for they will have lots of fun! It departs from Piazza delle Carrozze (Livorno) and takes you right up to the Montenero Santuario with a ticket that costs just as much as a bus fare. If you prefer to go by car you will find two parking lots near the monastery. The one higher up is smaller one and fills up quickly. The other is further down and is perfect to go for a nice walk along the bendy road that leads to the Sanctuary of Montenero. Keep your phone within reach to take photos of the views, and bear in mind that there are short cuts to skip some of the road bends!

THE LEGEND OF MADONNA DI MONTENERO. In 1345 a limping shepherd found an image of the Madonna near Piazza delle Carrozze in Livorno, Montenero: the man heard someone call him and realized that it was the Virgin Mary. He was asked to take the painting he had found up to Montenero: the poor man with a great struggle headed for the top of the mountain and, once he arrived, with great astonishment he noticed that he was no longer limping. From this first miracle onwards everyone started to venerate the effigy with supernatural powers. Just look at the number of ex-votos that nowadays continue to fill some parts of the church. For sceptic types, besides the legend of the shepherd, there is a more rational and historically interesting explanation. In the middle of the 1300s Livorno was little more than a fishing town, but it was pervaded by a renewed religious fervour, and all this later on would have led to an autonomous worship of some sacred images. This was not approved by the ecclesiastical authorities, which, in fact, forced people to get rid of 'unauthorized' effigies. One of these was thrown or hidden near the River Ardenzo and this is probably where the shepherd of the legend found it.

HISTORY OF THE LIVORNO SANTUARIO DI MONTENERO. However the effigy of the Virgin Mary was found again, soon the voice spread that one of them was the symbol of the deep relationship between Livorno and Montenero in Tuscany. It is linked to the strong earthquake that hit the city on January 27th 1742, and even produced a small tsunami: this only stopped when the Image of Livorno Our Lady of Grace was brought to Piazza Grande. After the blessing, the whole village decided to postpone the start of the Carnival for a few days. In Livorno, traditionally, the Carnival cannot begin before January 27th, the day when the help received by the Madonna against the dangerous earthquake is celebrated in the Cathedral. But let us return to the origins of the cult. The more blessings grew, the more donations grew... this provided the funds to expand the little oratory where the shrine of Our Lady of Grace was preserved. The first to take care of the Sanctuary were some Tertiary Friars, followed by the Jesuits and later the Theatines. The last ones are responsible of the first major expansion of the Santuario di Montenero in Livorno, which began in 1720 and ended in 1744. From a rectangular oratory it became a Latin cross plant. In 1792 the Sanctuary of Madonna Montenero was entrusted to the Benedictine Vallombrosa onks who are still today the custodians. The latest interventions date back to the 60's and 70's when, following the design of architect Giovanni Salghetti Drioli, the east courtyard was completed and the cloister was built. In the same years the construction of the Cappella dei Ceri Votivi began, and was then completed in 1988.

SANCTUARY OF MONTENERO IN LIVORNO: WHAT TO DO. Once you arrive at the Sanctuary you will surely be ravished by the view that you can enjoy from the square and we will certainly not prevent you from enjoying it. But remember to take a look at the buildings of the complex, which contain interesting works of art, artefacts and curiosities. The sanctuary is built around a central square which is accessed via a staircase. The main building is the Church with the porch and the bell tower on the side.

  • CHURCH. It is in baroque style characterized by stucco and marble columns; at the centre of the altar stands the image of Madonna of Montenero, after which the whole monastic complex is named. This icon depicts the Virgin with a red dress and blue mantle, bent over a little child she holds in her arms. The importance of this effigy is underlined by the enormous golden rays surrounding it. The painting is attributed to the Pisan school and in particular to Iacopo Michele known as Gera. The dome is another element of high artistic value, a work by Maestro Trallesi who painted ‘Paradiso in Festa’. The canvases of the side altars are also of great value, in one of which San Giovanni Gualberto is depicted, founder of the Sanctuary of Vallombrosa and of the order of monks named after him. 
  • MONTENERO SANCTUARY EX-VOTO GALLERY. You cannot come to the Sanctuary of Montenero in Italy without giving at least a look at the fervent expression of faith and gratitude represented by the ex-votos given to receive the grace of Madonna di Montenero. There are more than 700 located along the galleries at the sides of the Church! Some are represented by boards painted by artists of the likes of Giovanni Fattori and Renato Natale. Other less refined ones are the simple expression of the most popular folk art. Each one tells its story and has its characters: sailors, soldiers, women, and working children. Many, in addition to the image, carry some of the most disparate objects: parts of cars involved in some serious accident, clothing, crutches. Some are really peculiar. You will definitely not miss the oriental shoes with matching red clothing. It seems they belonged to a girl who had been kidnapped by the Turks while she was at sea. His brother, incredibly, managed to take her home and gave the Virgin Mary the clothes she wore as he managed to take her from the Turks. 
  • GALLERIA DEI COMUNI. On January 15th 1947, Madonna of Montenero was declared 'Mater Etruriae', that is Tuscany patron saint. On this day, pilgrims from dioceses throughout the whole region brought their own holy oil as a gift. To sanction this special relationship between Montenero and Tuscany even more, in the spaces at the back of the apse, the Galleria dei Comuni was created. Here are exposed all the coats of arms of the municipalities that were donated to the principal patron of the region. 
  • AULA MARIANA. It was inaugurated on March 25th 2000 and completed thanks to the funding of the Great Jubilee of that year. It is a very peculiar modern building: it has oval plants and is covered by a hanging garden. On the exterior it is coated both with stone and plaster, while the interior is filled with light colours and simple furnishings. It can contain up to 1200 pilgrims, not an enormously large number for a sanctuary that sees affluence increase every year. 
  • FAMEDIO. It is a porch where pilgrim dormitories were meant to have been built. This project was never completed, so the place was used as a burial space for famous Livorno inhabitants. And, in fact, enjoying eternal sleep in this wonderful place are Francesco Domenico Guerrazzi, a writer and politician, the 19th-century painter Enrico Pollastrini and the almost contemporary Giovanni Fattori. Two tombstones remember other Livorno inhabitants, but they are both buried elsewhere: the sculptor Amedeo Modigliani and musician Pietro Mascagni. 
  • MONTENERO SANCTUARY CAVES. They can be accessed on one side of the Church and were used already at the time of the appearance of the Virgin to the Shepherd. They were then used by the brigands who hid inside, but during the Second World War they were used as a shelter against air-raids. Thanks to various renovation works started in 1971, they can now be visited. 

Once you have finished your visit to the Santuario Madonna di Montenero, give yourself some time to shop at the boutique where you can choose among liqueurs, sweets, jams and sacred objects. In short, always with moderation, a bit of shopping never harms anyone! Do you want to know when is the best time to visit the Sanctuary of Montenero in Italy? There are some dates during which it is certainly more crowded, though the particular events and celebrations that attract the largest number of visitors can enhance the fascinating atmosphere to the place. This happens for the Madonna delle Grazie Celebration, which is celebrated on September 8th and during May, and is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It is also interesting to observe the rituals of students who are about to graduate and gather in Montenero 100 days before the start of exams. It will surely make you smile to see them climb the stairs leading to the Monastery on their knees as per tradition, hop on one leg for as many times as the mark they wish to get, throw a coin over an arch, and finally, exhausted by these almost athletic performances, turn on the classic candle to pray to the Madonna. Will she give them a blessing? You should look through the ex-votos and see if there is a maths book or a framed diploma!