Pope Pius XII, in a radio broadcast on October 17, 1954
“. . . we acknowledge the unanimous declaration of the Episcopal Conference held in Sicily on the reality of the event. Will men understand the mysterious language of those tears? “
I will come to this later in the post. It is important…
Anyway, to start the story, from about 54BC Syracuse was developed as a Greek City, the biggest and the most important in the Western Mediterranean
Two hundred years later under the tyrant Dionysius, Syracuse became the most splendid, most prosperous and the best fortified of all Greek cities. The thought of tyrants mystifies me, why don’t people challenge them. In 2023 there are fifty-seven tyrants in charge, mostly in Africa and the Middle East but the worst of all is Vladimir Putin.
Anyway, under Dionysius the naval power of Syracuse was vastly increased until its fleet was the most powerful in all of the Mediterranean.
Not surprising then that there is a lot of architecture to explore and plenty of archaeological ruins to see.
There were some to see in Ortigia but our intention today was to cross the bridge and make our way through the main city area to an archaeological site about a mile and a half away.
Suddenly there was a great contrast. Ortigia is the historical centre of the city and is generally clean, tidy and well maintained but the street cleaning budget is not so generous once over the water.
We made our way to the site through a web of neglected streets that were untidy and grubby, not really somewhere to dwell, so bad that Kim wasn’t even inclined to linger in the main shopping street of the city and then along a busy road where the pavement was overgrown with weeds and thistles and eventually to the intended destination.
Almost immediately we were less than thrilled and as we walked to the ticket office we looked down on the ruins and were not impressed and over a coffee we debated whether or not to pay the admission price and go inside. We decided against it for the following reasons…
1 The visitor reviews were mostly negative
2 The staff seemed most unhappy and unhelpful
3 We had to pay to use the toilets
4 Most of it was visible from the roadside anyway, no need to go in
5 It was €10 each admission
6 We had seen Greek ruins before in Sicily which were much better
This is Segesta on the west of the island near Palermo…
So, we left the disappointing ruins and made our way back to the city centre and specifically to the Church Sanctuary of the Madonna of Tears, I’ll say that again, the Church Sanctuary of the Madonna of Tears. A massive and ugly construction built on the premise of a Marian Apparition*.
Now, this is the very unlikely story…
Sometime ago in Tuscany plaster plaques were mass-produced and shipped to Syracuse for retail. One of the plaques was purchased as a wedding gift. After it had hung in the humble home of a local family rather conveniently the image unexpectedly began to shed tears for four whole days.
Sent by the Pope himself an ecclesiastical tribunal scrupulously studied the plaque and had the tears scientifically examined and promptly declared it a true miracle.
It has been said that never has a miracle been so thoroughly investigated, nor approved so quickly. I wonder if they had a structural survey of the house to see if the roof was leaking?
In a very short space of time there were reports of almost three hundred miracle healings, three hundred! attributed to the weeping Madonna and the Church and the City were quite clear on this matter and agreed to an appropriate construction to commemorate it.
The rather bizarre shape of the building was designed to represent a tear fallen from heaven and today the church is the destination of many faithful and pilgrims coming from all over the world. Not many believers there today I have to report. Actually only one. We visited it of course (free admission) wandered around, saw the famous icon which wasn’t weeping today as it happened and compared it to the Holy Shrine of Knock in Ireland which is based on a similar unlikely story.
This is the Holy Shrine of Knock…
We were happy to leave the Shrine and the City and make our way back to the island of Ortigia. We didn’t like it there especially and wouldn’t be going back unless a miracle occurred.
We crossed back over the bridge and the contrast was immediately there again. How odd that one hundred yards or so can make such a difference. We walked around the fishing port where weary fishermen were enjoying a well earned lunch break and ambled our way to the main square of Ortigia under the shadows of the Doumo, found a bar with a table in the sunshine and settled back to enjoy an early afternoon glass of wine.
Later we returned to the apartment, sat on the balcony and had another.
I have more to tell about the Blessed Virgin Mary in a later post coming up soon.
* A Marian Apparition is a reported supernatural appearance by the Blessed Virgin Mary. The miracle is often named after the town where it is reported
More posts about a Marian Apparition…