Sep 19, 2023 10:26 AM
Sites of faith
One of the most evocative places of Marian worship in Calabria is the Shrine of Monte Stella, the hermitage dedicated to Santa Maria della Stella, totally excavated in a cave in the belly of the mountain of the same name.
A place suspended in time, where nature and spirit dialogue and reunite on the summit of a panoramic peak overlooking the Ionian Sea.
The Shrine of Monte Stella
The Shrine of Monte Stella, also known as the Hermitage of Santa Maria della Stella, is located in the municipality of Pazzano, in the province of Reggio Calabria.
It can be reached by following a scenic, overhanging road that connects the Costa dei Gelsomini, on the Ionian Sea, and the dense forests that line the Stilaro Valley up to the summit of Monte Stella.
The mountain is made up of limestone from the Jurassic period and iron ore (limonite, pyrite and silver), once mined for processing at the Ironworks and the Royal Bourbon Armoury.
The first official mention of this ancient Basilian hermitage, one of the many present in this strip of land that was a privileged destination of Greek Orthodox monasticism, is that of the Greek Codex 598 of Paris containing the works of Saint Ephrem the deacon, one of the precious manuscripts that still make up the patrimony of the Library of Santa Maria.
In the 16th century, the monastery became the Shrine of Santa Maria della Stella and for the first time, the statue of the Madonna was placed in the centre of the deep cave that opens in the mountainside.
From this point on, the original Byzantine hermitage became a popular shrine for Catholic pilgrims on August 15th.
It is accessed by descending a flight of steps carved into the stone (62 steps). Inside the cavity, in addition to the statue of the Madonna, you can admire several paintings depicting the Immaculate Conception, the Holy Trinity and the Adoration of the Shepherds. Of particular interest is a fragment of a Byzantine fresco (10th-11th century), depicting St Mary of Egypt receiving the Eucharist from the monk Zosimus.
Any legends? It is said that the mountain was once a volcano and that the devil lived in its centre, later driven out by the Virgin Mary, hence the presence of a smaller cavity within the larger one known as the Devil's Cave.
The Shrine of Monte Stella is sculpted in a breathtaking landscape, which can be appreciated with a day trip through the lush forest and Mediterranean scrub, or by stopping to sleep in the hostel "La Vetta", set up at the top of the mountain for pilgrims and tourists who choose to stay, with a beautiful picnic area next to it.
Trekking enthusiasts can walk the steep path, U Schicciu, that leads from the historic centre of Pazzano (Fontana Vecchia) to the Shrine of Monte Stella in about half an hour, also flanking the ancient path of the Basilian monks.
What to see in the surrounding area
The Hermitage of Monte Stella is the last stop of an itinerary through history, nature and archaeology that crosses the entire Stilaro Valley up to the summit of Mount Consolino, one of the most important rivers in Calabria, which laps the territory of Stilo, among The Most Beautiful Villages in Italy.
Stilo is known for being the birthplace of the theologian and philosopher Tommaso Campanella, who was inspired by his birthplace to compose his most famous work, The City of the Sun.
The Bronze Monument to Campanella, in Piazza Carnovale next to the Church of San Francesco, is a tribute to this remarkable figure, of whom traces remain at the house where he was born and the convent cell that housed him in his early years.
A place of strong sacredness, Stilo is rich in churches, monasteries and hermitic degrees scattered throughout the valley, such as the Laura Sant'Angelo, which can be visited. The main places of worship include the splendid 14th-century Cathedral, built on an earlier Palaeo-Byzantine church and rebuilt after the earthquake of 1783; the Church of San Domenico, the Abbey of San Giovanni Therestis and, of course, the Cattolica di Stilo, an iconic jewel of 10th-century Byzantine architecture in Calabria.
Inside, four reused columns, all different from each other, divide the space into nine parts; the central square and the corner ones are covered by domes.
A medieval village among The Most Beautiful Villages in Italy, Stilo is accessible through its ancient gates and finds its symbol in the Norman Castle.
Erected by Roger II on Mount Consolino, the building dates back to the 11th century. It has a rectangular shape and it is surrounded by a number of defensive works, although today only the ruins of the perimeter walls, towers and gates remain standing, as it was destroyed in the 16th century by the French, at war with Charles V.
The best time to visit Stilo? The month of August, during the pilgrimage to the Madonna of Monte Stella and on the first Sunday, when the characteristic Palio di Ribusa takes place, a medieval re-enactment of the ancient cattle fair that was held in and around Stilo in the 17th century.