Sanctuary of Madonna delle Grazie
Santuario della Madonna delle Grazie
In 1454 some kids playing south of the citadel found a picture of the Virgin Mary with the Baby Jesus, buried in a hole of the ground. The picture, still venerated (and now kept at the Diocese museum of Sant'Agata de' Goti), is realized in gold and wax in a clear Byzantine style. Probably it was placed there in around 730: the Byzantine Emperor Leo III the Isaurian had just forbidden the worship of religious icon and, at that time, Arpaia was just at the border between the Langobard and the Byzantine possessions; so it is likely that its inhabitants hid that precious picture as they were scared about its destruction.
In any case, the surprising discovery was regarded as a miracle. According to the tradition, the Franciscan friars Bernardino da Siena and James of the Marches immediately started building a church and a convent in the place where the picture was found; its first name was Santa Maria del Giogo
(St. Mary of the Yoke), possibly because that place was believed to be the point where the Samnites humiliated the Romans at the Caudine Forks.
The convent was later renamed Madonna della Grazie
(Our Lady of the Graces) because of a number of claimed miracles operated by the Virgin in the area. For instance, in 1887 a fire burned up in the church, and as soon as a man ran into it to save the icon of the Virgin, the flames would have miraculously ceased. At that time the convent was part of the estate that the newborn Italian country picked from the church; but after this episode the friars were settled it again and, in 1892, a seminar school was also founded.
During the World War II a bomb was dropped near the sanctuary, so it needed some works of reinforcing afterwards.
The church, currently closed, is located on the left of the convent. The latter is built around a square-planned cloister, whose arcades are entirely decorated with frescoes. On the right side of the convent is the new pre-seminar school, completed in 1941.
Cenni storici del Santuario della Madonna delle Grazie in Arpaia [Pro Loco Arpaia]
History of the Sanctuary, written down in 1954. It is written from a rather religious point of view, and therefore focuses on the miracles believed to be accomplished by the Virgin Mary at the Sanctuary.