MADONNE DEL LATTE nella cripta della chiesa di San Luca – Maranola

04023, Via Monte S. Luca, 04028 Formia LT, Italia
accessibilità : luogo pubblico

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.

Raffaele Capolino



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.





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