Stories of Christian saints and legends fill Val dii Comino, making this a place of pilgrimage from all over the world for nearly 2 millennia and a place of worship even before the arrival of Christianity.
God obviously likes the peace and quiet of this Valley. In Val di Comino, the link between the human and divine seems at its strongest, creating one of those privileged places, able to dispense graces, peace, serenity and a real feeling of well being. The entire Valley is dotted with sacred places. There are churches, convents, monasteries and shrines to be found on almost every corner, however remote.
A pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of the Madonna of Canneto, whether by foot past Grotta Campanaro (it takes around 2-3 hours to reach it by foot) or by car past Settefrati, is an essential part of a visit to this ancient land.
The Sanctuary of the Madonna of Canneto is first mentioned in a document in 819. It recounts the legend that the Virgin Mary appeared to a shepherdess in Valle di Canneto. Archaeological evidence proves that this was a site of pagan worship to the goddess Melfa before the birth of Christ and continues to be a site of pilgrimage to this day. During the Feast of the Madonna in August thousands of pilgrims travel on foot from all over this heart of Italy.
The front of the Basilica, dating from the 18th century hides a completely modern and stunning church behind.
The present church retains very little evidence of earlier times. The facade dates from the 1820’s, and the rest of the sanctuary was completely rebuilt in the 1970’s, with an architectural line that gave rise to much controversy about the devastating effect on the surroundings. Much of the architecture of the last century are preserved in the basement of the Sanctuary, including the old entrance portal with an inscription recording the rebuilding done in 1857 with the financial support of King Ferdinand II of Naples and a good collection of votive offerings.
Much older (12th or 13th Centuries) is the wooden statue of the Madonna covered more recently by a blanket of silk embroidered in gold and crowned with a golden crown. The Child Jesus is held on her left.
The pilgrimage to the shrine of Canneto takes place throughout the summer months, and reaches its climax in August. On 18 August a reproduction of the statue is carried in procession from the shrine at Settefrati, returning on 22. Apart from individual visits, the faithful, by ancient tradition, come to Canneto organized into "companies", preceded by their banners. Recently the pilgrimage on foot has experienced a revival, especially among the young. On the afternoon of August 21 all the companies present in a grand parade procession of the Eucharist which goes to the source of Melfa. Many used to do the last few yards on their knees (and many more the whole journey on bare foot), and when they left the church, walk backwards to not turn their backs to the Virgin. Other customs included the search for "Stelluccia" or stars of the Madonna at the source of Capodacqua, which were said to be particles of the Lady’s ring left from contact with the rock when the spring was created, and, of course, by standing in the water and reciting the Pater Noster, Ave Maria and Gloria while holding hands.