Visit to the Shrine of Santa Maria delle Armi

Pilgrimage to the rock-sheltered Marian shrine of Cerchiara

© Cammino Basiliano

Sites of faith

Nestled in the Pollino National Park, in the province of Cosenza, the town of Cerchiara di Calabria is home to the extraordinary Shrine of the Madonna delle Armi, one of the most evocative places of faith in Calabria.

A pilgrimage destination for the faithful from all over the region, the Madonna delle Armi of Cerchiara is also a perfect stop on a spiritual itinerary in nature, for those who wish to hike in the Pollino and stop in a place full of magic.

The Shrine of Santa Maria delle Armi

Imagine a sacred place carved out of the living rock of the mountain, overlooking the breathtaking panorama of the Sibari Plain, similar to those in which the ancient hermits of the Eastern deserts gathered in prayer and meditation.

The Shrine of the Madonna delle Armi, on the slopes of Mount Sellaro, just outside the town of Cerchiara di Calabria, is among the most venerated Marian shrines in the region, capable of arousing wonder and great respect for the place.

The title Madonna delle Armi has nothing to do with wartime references; rather, it derives from the Greek Των αρμων (Tōn armōn), meaning "of caves, of ravines", with reference to the characteristic caverns that run through the interior of Mount Sellaro.

Santuario di Santa Maria delle Armi
Regione Calabria

Built in the 15th century on a pre-existing place of worship, today's monumental complex was dedicated to the Madonna delle Armi following a miraculous discovery: legend has it that in 1450, some hunters saw a deer sneaking into a small cave on Mount Sellaro, and chasing it inside they discovered two wooden icons depicting the evangelist saints. The hunters took the tablets back to their home town, but they promptly disappeared and reappeared in the same spot in the cave, where the sanctuary was eventually founded.

That is not all! During construction work, a stone split open and an image of the Madonna and Child on one side and St John the Baptist on the other appeared inside. The former, called for this acheropite image ('not painted by human hand'). It is still an object of veneration today.

Enlarged between the 16th and 17th centuries, with the adjoining Ducal Palace and other convent and service buildings, the Shrine of Armi houses valuable 17th-century works and 18th-century frescoes of the Neapolitan school.

The celebration of the Madonna delle Armi takes place every year on 25 April. On this occasion, it is very beautiful to watch the characteristic procession that winds through the mountains, raising ancient hymns to the Virgin. The feast was instituted in 1846, after the citizens of Cerchiara obtained from the Madonna delle Armi the grace of a good harvest after a period of drought.

What to see and do in Cerchiara di Calabria

The good harvest in Cerchiara di Calabria refers more than anything else to wheat, as the locality belongs to the gastronomic circuit of the "Bread Cities".

The delicious Cerchiara bread, a brand product, is the protagonist of the annual Cerchiara Bread Festival, held in August, which includes demonstrations of local processing, workshops, exhibitions, events and tastings.

Those who visit Cerchiara at other times of the year can still taste and buy the typical bread and discover its secrets at the Cerchiara Bread Museum, where tools, machinery and millstones of rural life of the past are on display.

Regione Calabria

A must-see is the ruins of the medieval Castle. For nature lovers, an excursion to the Caldanello Gorge is recommended, where it is possible to access the first via ferrata in the South, the "Ferrata della Gravina" (or Ferrata del Caldanello), a popular destination for mountaineers and enthusiasts.

Just outside the town is also the Cave of the Nymphs, possibly the same mentioned by Omero, an ancient source of sulphurous water that forms therapeutic mud and today flows into a thermal pool.

Cerchiara Grotte
Regione Calabria

Ultimo aggiornamento: Feb 15, 2024 10:41 AM