By Saveria Fiore, photo by Vito Fusco
Surrounded by rich green vegetation, the Church of Santa Maria del Bando stands tall in all of its magical beauty. To be able to experience it fully, we listen to the skillful words of Giovanni Proto, manager of the Sanctuary. He tells the story of this beautiful place with such evident passion for it that it’s almost like we can see the scenes he’s narrating in front of us on a stage. “I’ve been responsible for this place for twenty-one years, and I still care for it deeply. The Bishop of Amalfi and Cava dei Tirreni, Bishop Benjamin, entrusted me with this position in 1999.”His attachment to this place is not only evident in his words but in his silence as well. The love and the desire for this site to be acknowledged more indeed resonates in all the things Giovanni doesn’t say. Even if the Church of Santa Maria del Bando is not very famous, the parish of Atrani Don Carmine officiates here regularly to keep the religious spirit of the community alive.
The path that leads to the church is an experience in itself. While walking around Atrani’s neighborhoods, you can almost hear the echo of the “bando” (a type of announcement) from the church of Mount Maggiore that was sung at the time of the Maritime Republics to call on the citizens. The site had been designated as a Sanctuary in 1944 when Monsignor Rossini declared it as such, but it is more known simply as Santa Maria del Bando. According to a local myth, the first documentation about the building dates back to 1187. The church had been built as a vow to the Virgin Mary by a man who survived a death sentence.
An uphill climb
Visitors that want to reach the Church of Santa Maria del Bando need to go through the challenge of walking around 750 steps that form the famous Atrani’s stairs. Domenico, a 72 years old man who is particularly fond of this site, tells us how he goes up these stairs without any fatigue. “I come up here every day to take care of the gardens around the Sanctuary. It’s a great way to keep myself occupied”. Going down in these narrow alleys, where the scent of wild alyssum blends with the perfume of clothes hanging out to dry and the local soup’s aroma, offers a unique experience of the local community. “On Christmas’s Eve,” says Domenico stopping by the porch of a house, “we shoot a star towards the cathedral right from this place when the clock strikes midnight.”
Traditions and memories
In this beautiful landscape, the typical Amalfi Coast’s lemon trees cannot miss. This is why two young men, Alfonso and Salvatore, are working on the fences that will support the pergola that allows the plants to grow as we walk around. But among the vegetation and the buildings that stand out from the area’s rocks, there is a house that it’s a bit more special than the others. The white home of Antonia Gargano, the mother of Masaniello, can be seen right before reaching the Sanctuary’s entrance. It was Masaniello’s last shelter. The man who led the revolt against the Habsburg of Spain was then assassinated on the 16th of July of 1647 in the Church of Carmine in Naples. Time has passed, but Masaniello’s cave is still there to keep his memory intact and to quietly guard the area. The site is an object of interest even today, and it looks like new excavations could bring back to life memories that were lost but never forgotten.
Every year during Christmas’s festivities in Santa Maria, a skillful local artisan creates nativities in small glass bowls. The figurines of the shepherds and the glass bowls are bought in San Gregorio Armeno, but everything else that formes the nativity comes from the artisan’s magic hands. These nativities are won by drawing lots in a raffle that takes place during January. “Initially, it was a way to help to fund the renovation’s works that the Sanctuary and the area around it needed,” Giovanni explains. “In the first year, we put just three nativities among the prizes of the raffle, but then the community loved the idea so much that now we have ten.” At the end of the religious celebrations, the community gathers in the traditional food feast (pasta e fagioli and typical desserts) that makes our territory so unique.
Looking at the future
Mr. Domenico spends most of his day here, taking care of the gardens located at the feet of the Sanctuary with that peculiar energy that the older generations possess. But he’s not alone; Giovanni is also always here to contribute so that the bando can reach everyone. “What I wish for is that we will be able to revive this place so that everyone will know it. I hope that more and more people will get the chance to come here on a trip so that the Sanctuary can shine bright as it should,” Giovanni says with a precious glint in his eyes.
(Translation by Michela Pandolfi)