Itri is located almost midway between Roma and Napoli. Over the centuries from before the Roman Empire, Itri was always a well-traveled town because of their location. War after war was fought to control Itri and the surrounding area because the one who controlled Itri would control what would become the Appian Way. The Tomba di Cicero is located just at the southern edge of town on the way to Formia. The famous bandit Fra Diavolo lived in Itri. He was more of a mercenary than a true bandit, selling his services to the highest bidder. Many years later Padre Pio would also seek solace in Itri living in the mountains with the Cappucian monks.
Up on the tallest mountain is a church built to honor the Madonna. The tradition is that the famous painting of the Madonna della Civita was lost at sea when stolen by bandits. There are several versions told of the painting and its discovery by a young deaf mute shepherd searching for his lost cow up in the mountains. The most repeated version tells how he found his cow kneeling at the base of a tree. When the boy knelt and prayed, he was instantly healed. He brought villagers to claim the painting. Once again everyone began to battle over ownership. The painting was taken to a local church but it disappeared again. The villagers found the sacred painting back in the same tree. It was decided the Madonna gave them a sign telling them where She preferred to be. A sanctuary was built on the spot with a glass altar encasing the tree trunk. Adjoining the church are several large rooms where hang hundreds of written testimonies and photographs of miracles attributed to Her divine intercession on behalf of the ill and injured as well as preventing serious injuries or death in travel accidents. Campodimele and Itri still argue over ownership of the mountain, the painting, even the Sanctuario to this present day.
Cranston, Rhode Island now is home to St Mary’s Church where a replica of the Madonna della Civita is honored with a Feast commemorating Her holy days in Itri. The community piazza not too far from St. Mary’s Hall has a stone set on the street corner with all the names of the families from Itri who found their way to Cranston. It is always such a joy but also a bit sad to visit the stone and trace the names with our fingers. How hard, how frightening for those brave souls to leave all that was familiar and loved – their land, their homes, their families and friends – to make that long journey across the ocean to the unknown. Yes, they knew they were seeking other friends and family here stateside, but, oh! The unknowns that awaited them too! And so it was they made their way to Cranston, and found a way to honor all they left behind but brought along in their hearts!