Madonna della Stella

The sanctuary of Madonna della Stella is located in the middle of the woods covering the Partenio mountains, not far from a ravine. It is definitely the main landmark of Rotondi, and is visible from pretty much the entire Valle Caudina. The traditional way to get there is a steep path from the toen centre, barely distinguishable among the trees; but nowadays the Sanctuary is also accessible by a driveway departing from the main road between Paolisi and Rotondi.
The new road consists of two different routes for the way to the sanctuary and the way back. The former is also employed during the rites of the Good Friday, and features a sequence of panels representing the Via Crucis (stations of the Cross).
The sanctuary is essential in the religious life of Rotondi: the worship of Madonna della Stella (this name being a popular modification of 'Our Lady, Star of the Sea') gained more and more relevance during the last three centuries—in particular with the establishment of the tradition of the Riflemen of the Star (see below). The surrounding areas are also widely frequented by locals taking a day out. Our Lady, Star of the Sea [Wikipedia]

To find out more about the worship of the Virgin Mary as 'Star of the Sea'

The old path to the sanctuary Goats brought to grazing along the mountain slopes
First Station of the Cross The ceramic panels of the Stations of the Cross are modern. Each of them has been realized by a different area of the town. A path leading further uphill in the woods View of the sanctuary from the woods uphill

Sanctuary of Maria Santissima della Stella

Santuario di Maria Santissima della Stella

The sanctuary lies on a soil that, during the 15th or 16th century, was donated to Capuchin monks; a local historial, Francesco Cillo, asserts that this was also the place where the original castle of the De Rotundis family was located.
The friars originally built an hermitage and, on top of it, a small chapel covered by a simple wooden roof, that hosted a Byzantine statue of the Virgin Mary as the Star of the Sea. The hermitage was mentioned for the first time in 1599, as it was visited by the archbishop of Benevento.
In the middle of 17th century the conditions of the chapel were rather poor; after further damages due to earthquakes in 1688 and 1702, a man called Michelangelo Leggieri promoted the restoration of the building, whereas the archbishop Vincenzo Maria Orsini (the future Pope Benedict XIII) donated the community a new statue of Madonna della Stella, the one currently venerated. In this occasion a Confraternity of the church was born as well.
During the following centuries, the complex has been expanded several times. With a first intervention in 1727-1736, a loggia was built in front of the former hermitage, facing the valley; and the access to the chapel was moved from the rear side to the top of the loggia. Other refurbishment works took place in 1885-1888: the chapel was enlarged and its interior decorated the way it still appears nowadays. In 1905 the lodge was strengthened with buttresses, and a bell tower was erected on the right of the chapel. In 1965, a building behind the church was completed, to be used as seat of the Confraternity and accommodation for pilgrims.
The archbishop of Benevento, Serafino Sprovieri, during the 2005 celebrations for the 300 years of the new statue of Madonna della Stella, awarded the church with the title of 'town sanctuary'. Santuario "Maria SS. della Stella" in Rotondi

Website of the sanctuary.

The sanctuary seen from down the steps leading to the church The former hermitage with the loggia, built in lime stones, is topped by the church, and the pilgrims' house built on its back. The access to the church is located on a terrace over the loggia, accessible from the steps on the left, or from the back of the complex after following the driveway slightly further. Back view of the bell tower The construction of the bell tower took place in 1904. It was financed by the offerings from the village.
Front of the church The current shape of the church's front dates back to the 1905 works. View of the interior Most of the front part of the church has been built up in 1885: the original chapel is the current chancel.
The altar and the dome The stuccoes, and the marble altar, date back to the 1885 restoration. Statue of Madonna della Stella The statue kept in the sanctuary replaces an ancient one that got well-worn with time. The current one, instead, is a work of a sculptor from Benevento, donated by the archbishop Vincenzo Maria Orsini. Solemn celebrations took place in Rotondi on the day of the consignment, 10 August 1705.
The reference to the stars is made explicit with the vests, and the necklace that the Virgin Mary is wearing. The restorations that the statue underwent, anyway, have always been rather ingenuous, and altered several details. The Virgin used to hold a bunch of flowers and a crown in her right hand.
The old wooden statue features severe, Byzantine traits. It is believed to date back to the 13th century (9th or 10th according to other sources) and it is notably spoilt: its lower half has been entirely cut off. The only remaining part of the body of Baby Jesus, in particular, is his head, that has been attached to a shoulder of the Virgin Mary after the cut-off. An image of the old statue
Detail of the handmade decorated pavement This pavement has been set up in 1888, and it is realized in traditional Neapolitan ceramics. It's a gift of a priest from Naples. Stone commemorating Orsini's consecration of the church The archbishop Orsini re-consecrated the chapel in 1704, after the end of the post-earthquake restoration.
The loggia and the buttresses The old hermitage of the sanctuary, nowadays commonly known as the 'grotto', is still accessible through a door on the side of the loggia. It hosts an exhibition of nativity scenes, a long-standing tradition of Naples and its region. Rotondi - il presepe nelle grotte del santuario della Stella [UserTV]

A video about a new nativity scene exhibited in the grotto in 2013.

Banner of the 'Riflemen of the Star' According to the tradition, in 1790 a group of people from Avella, a town the other side of the Partenio mountains, tried nightly to steal the statue of Madonna della Stella from the chapel, but they were found out by the hermit that used to live there. As he rang the church's bells as a sign of alarm, the population of Rotondi rushed over, carrying forks and arquebuses. The thiefs did not have any other choice that run away, abandoning the statue behind them, in the woods, where the peasants found it back.
This event is still remember in the popular tradition. Every year on Easter's morning, as the statue is taken from the sanctuary to the church of Annunziata, a group of of men from the town in old-fashioned peasants' clothes accompanies the parade firing with arquebuses (nowadays fake ones are employed).
The picture shows the banner carried by the riflemen during the procession, usually held in the pilgrims' house. Rotondi (AV), 2013, Festa della Madonna della Stella [Flickr]

A sequence of photos taken from the Flickr user Fiore Silvestro Barbato follows the 2013 procession of Madonna della Stella.

Pilgrims' house The pilgrims' house was built from 1955 to 1965 on the rear of the church. Besides the pilgrims' accommodation, includes a small bar.
The driveways to and from the sanctuary, and the terrace preceding the church, are also notable for the views of the Valle Caudina they give.
The town centre of Rotondi seen from the driveway This picture shows the inhabited centre of Rotondi with its focal points, namely Piazza Vittorio Emanuele with the clock tower, on the left; and the church of Annunziata on the right. Just behind the Piazza are the trees of the public garden with, on their right, Vaccariello-Fevola House (19th century). Closer to the mountain slope, in the lower half of this picture, are some of the old popular neighbourhoods of Rotondi, alternating older and newer housing. Cervinara seen from the driveway The town of Cervinara has a spread structure that is rather evident from this picture. The mountain behind the cente is Mount Pizzone (801 m), under which lie the oldest portion of the centre. The hill on the left of Pizzone is named Toppo del Conte (390 m). The wavy terrain further ahead is the east boundary of Valle Caudina. Montesarchio seen from the driveway Montesarchio with its hill is the easiest urban centre to recognize in the valley. The hill is topped by the so-called Tower, and the Castle behind it. Halfway down the hill is the convent of Madonna delle Grazie, whereas the neighbourhood recognisable on the left of the slope is Latovetere, the most ancient core of the town.
At the feet of the hill are the residential areas of the town, mostly built during 20th century.
The east half of Valle Caudina seen from the terrace of the sanctuary Mount Taburno is the most outstanding element of the landscape. The territory of Rotondi stretches from the sanctuary, through the town centre at its feet, to Campizze along the Appian Way: this is recognizable here as a row of houses with the white industrial complex on its right. Behind the industrial complex, on the slope of Taburno, is the village of Bonea. Cervinara is barely visible behind the mountsin slope on the right. Montesarchio is the town of the bottom of this view. The remainder of the territory of the valley is a mosaic of farmlands and small woods, usually of chestnut trees.
Copyright 2014 Antonio De Capua