Saturday, August 19

Black Madonna

I love this photo from Ferragosto. I didn't take it, Captain Peter did. The Madonna is carried out the church, around town and along the beach in a twighlight procession. Which reminds me of a story. The story of how Positano got its name....

Once upon a time, many years ago a band of thieves stole a cedarwood portrait of a Black Madonna. They took her onto a saracen ship and set sail upon the high seas. One evening during the voyage, there was a terrible storm with winds so strong that the mainsail threatened to fall. The rain pounded down and the huge waves crashed into the ship, sweeping men and objects overboard.

Ther crew were terrified, running around in panic on the ancient ship, their duties abandoned. The rain lashed their faces, the wind roared and the mast creaked and swayed above them. Suddenly over the mayhem, the sailors heard a calm and steady voice calling. “Posa, posa!” Lay me down. It was the voice of the stolen Black Madonna, she was asking to be taken to shore. The sailors decided to trust her and ran back to their posts, but there was hardly any need. Although the ship was damaged and the sail was torn, it practically sailed itself towards land.

They sailed into in a small bay and the Madonna was carried onto the beach and laid down. The storm died away and the sailors climbed back into their ship and sailed away. At dawn the local fishermen came down to the beach and found the Black Madonna glowing, waiting peacefully on the sand. The inhabitants of the village built a church in her honour and named the village Positano, after her cry of “posa, posa”, asking to be left in there, during the storm.

And the Black Madonna live happily ever after in the church built for her in the fishing village.


  1. Always magically put.
    Did you know that up to the 50s they used to actually relive the whole thing? Almost everyone in town got involved, people put on costumes of saracens, others played fishermen...there was fire, mayhem and everything and it all culminated in fireworks...wish I coudl have seen it at least once, but I can only tell you this wiht the eyes of my parents and friends who remember it, very vividly. It was awesome!
    Thank you for sharing our traditions and roots with the world!

  2. What a magical, fascinating story! Thank you for sharing that with us!

    What a sight it would be if they still recreated that!

  3. From 'Positano' by John Steinbeck
    Like most Italian towns Positano has its miraculous picture. It is a Byzantine representation of the Virgin Mary. Once long ago, the story goes, the Saracenic pirates raided the town and among other things carried away this picture. But thhey had no sooner put to sea when a vision came to them which so stunned them that they returned the picture. Every year on August 15, this incident is reenacted with great fury and some bloodshed. In the night the half-naked pirates attack the town which is defended by Positanese men-at-arms dresseed in armor. Some of this fighting gets pretty serious. The pirates then go to the church and carry the holy picture off into the night. Now comes the big moment. As soon as they have disappeared into the darkness, a bright and flaming image of an angel appears in the sky. At present General Mark Clark is the sponsor of this miracle. He gave the town a surplus Air Force barrage balloon. Then very soon the pirates return their boats and restore the picture to the church and everybody marches and sings and has a good time.

  4. I just love the light in that picture. What a beautiful madonna - and a beautiful story about her. I totally sympathize with her - I mean, who wouldn't want to stay in Positano? ;)

  5. What a story. I have an acquaintance who is fascinated in black Madonnas, I'll have to share this post with her. :-)


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