MADONNE DEL LATTE nella cripta della chiesa di San Luca – Maranola04023, Via Monte S. Luca, 04028 Formia LT, Italia
The Crypt of St.Luke is a unique place that contains six Virgins of the milk. This cult that considerably spread between 1300 and 1400 generally concerned the request of protection for the mother and her baby at childbirth and also to get enough milk to breastfeed.
The discovery of this crypt happened randomly on the 28th of June 1997, during the works of replacement of the floor in the Church of S. Luke in Maranola.
An underground area full of rubbles was discovered, which was removed by volunteers and members of St. Luke’s committee, including my friend Gerardo De Meo, who had been following all the artistic recovery operations in the hilly territories of Formia . Two photos let us realize how much material had been necessary to reveal this treasure kept hidden from the human events of many centuries of history.
The emptying brought to highlight a greek crossed shaped area with a staggering number of frescoes.
The crypt has two transepts nearly seven meters each , and a slit is the only light source. There is also a rustic fountain with a picture painted upside and a well that must have contained the “sacred water, the water that purifies, that regenerates , that is the hope of salvation”.
In this post we will only talk about the six Virgins od the Milk frescoed in this crypt of extraordinary beauty and artistic complexity. Four of them sit on a throne unlike two of them named for this reason the Virgins of humility.
Taking inspiration from one of Gerardo De Meo’ research, it is highlighted that the Virgins of the Milk date back to the XIV-XVth centuries and as already said, they have all been painted sitting on a throne.
In the surrounding area, Virgins of the Milk have been found in several cities (Gaeta, Minturno, Fondi sulla Rocca, and Ausonia) but never in such a large number as in Maranola, which owns eight in its churches, plus one outside the walls called Madonna SS delle Grazie on the western side, kept in a private chapel.
So, in all there are nine Milk Madonnas in a territorial context not overly populated. All this leads to infer that the entire territory and the crypt in particular was “the place of worship to Mary Lactans”, also justified by the presence of the source.
The presence of the Virgin of the Milk and of water makes us think that this must have been a place of pilgrimage for pregnant women claiming a healthy motherhood and for mothers caring about the health of their unborn babies.
PARISH CHURCH OF SAN LUCA EVANGELISTA
The parish church of San Luca Evangelista of Maranola, is a building situated inside the town, in her high part, close to the tower Caetani; there aren’t precise reports about the date of construction but experts date her origin at the XIIIth century. The structure is made up of a single large central nave, divided into three cross vaults, with lateral altars, a baptismal font, a transept and an apse. On the right of the entrance there is the Chapel dedicated to the Holy Body of Christ; this chapel, in addition to the several parts remained intact of stuccoes and frescoes of the XIVth century, is enriched by a baroque altar dominated by a big board of the XVIth finely decorated, attributed to the school of Siciolante from Sermoneta; during the Easter celebrations many believers got inside it for the exposure of the dead Christ. It is in axis to this chapel and sideways to the central nave that follows the sacristy, in medieval architecture, that preserves a fresco of the “ Madonna with a pomegranate”, sign of prosperity. Then follows the bell tower, to the right of the major altar, also dated back to XIIIth century, accessible from the choir; the bell tower’s wall structure is provided of single hole windows that show an external decoration made up of ceramic basin covered by glass. Along the central nave there are several valuable frescoes making part of a single original parietal cycle partly lost. In the high part of the church there is the major altar in polychrome marble in baroque style; a wooden choir of the XVIIIth century is placed behind it. On the left side of the entrance of the church, aligned to the Chapel of the St Body of Christ , there is the baptismal font in carved stone.
The XIVth century crypt, placed under the major altar and the choir and accessible from the left side of the transept, deserves a particular mention ; it is completely frescoed and it was discovered on 28 June 1997, during the works for the replacement of the floor. It’s a particular place, full of different cycles of paintings, one of them is characterized by six Madonne del latte (Virgins of the Milk ) a fact that’s really unique of its kind), one related to some events of Christ’s life, one composed by the overlap of four layers of frescoes, in the area of the apse; there are also lots of figures of saints devoted at that particular time.
The bronze Peace Door opens and closes the Church of St Luke Evangelist and it was realized in 1989 by the sculptor Gerardo de Meo of Maranola.
One last mention to the rectory, with a lateral separated entrance from the public street and accessible from the inside of the sacristy. It was requested and built for the first time towards the end of 1800 from the archpriest pro tempore; besides the accommodation of the parish holder, it hosts different offices like the parish historical archive.
Giovanni D’Onorio de Meo
As regards Maranola’s hamlet, the earliest written information can be traced back to the Middle ages, although there may have been settlements in prehistoric times, and the existence of the Pelasgian wall proves this. Historically, the medieval village of Maranola was born between the second half of the tenth century and the first few decades of the eleventh century.
The oldest sources can be traced back to the middle of the tenth century from the Codex Diplomaticus Cajetanus. Maranola in the Xth century was called Maranula and Marana. In a document dated 950 A.D. describes the donations of their propriety made by the Dukes of Gaeta to the Duke of Marino, and located in the Maranola and Marana regions. The following chronological source takes us to the document dated 1029 , which mentions Maria called the “Fondana” and her brother Giovanni as dwellers of the “Castrum Maranulae”. The first document specifies Maranula as a place but in the second one we find the first testimony of a fortified centre or “castrum”.
Its territory was wide, it bordered with the appian way until the border with Spigno and Scauri, and it reached Gianola’s hill. This large territory between the southern region of Lazio and the region of Campania, according to the reported facts of some latin writers and confirmed by some archaeological discoveries , was one of the most densely populated places of sanctuaries, situated in the woods or in the several karstic caves along the Tirreno’s coastline or in Ponza and Ventotene isles.