As you may have guessed, this first week in September in Sicily is bursting with feasts dedicated to the Madonna and the divine feminine. There’s a reason for this: It’s the end of the harvest season, and who do you want to recognize after a time of abundance, but Mother Earth for providing you with sustenance? Since Christian times, however, Mother Earth or the Mother Goddess has become the Mother of God. Which brings us to Altavilla, where during the 6, 7, and 8th of September, they are celebrating the Madonna of the Milicia, which is represented by the venerated painting of Our Lady and child, pictured.
Some scholars of the divine feminine recognize this Madonna as a Black Madonna, and like her sisters’ icons, the Madonna of the Milicia has a similar history. In 1636, after having ravaged the coastal villages of Altavilla, a Saracen pirate ship was making its way toward Palermo to raid the city, but for some reason, it couldn’t navigate past Capo Zafferano. Legend is that the non-Christian ship’s crew was using the sacred painting pictured as a porthole lid, and when they couldn’t proceed West, out of superstition, they threw the painting into the sea thinking it would be best served in Christian hands (and would free them of their navigation troubles). The painting drifted East to Altavilla (to the mouth of the Milicia River), where the distraught townspeople received it with joy. They employed an oxen-pulled cart to show them where the Madonna wanted to reside. That spot is where today, the sanctuary for the Madonna della Milicia houses the painting. Because the distraction it created saved Palermo from the rath of the pirates, the painting is venerated throughout the region.
According to art historians, the work dates from the end of the 14th century and was probably created by a Tuscan artist from the Giotto school. During the 3-day feast, devotees reenact the painting’s arrival with a procession of the painting on ship-like float pulled by oxen, among other ritual acts and masses.