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MADONNA OF FRASASSI SHRINE

The cave has always been the antechamber to a dark, secret, yet fantastical world. It is a place of symbols, cults and legends, an archetype of the womb and the world. From prehistory to the Christian era caves were places full of significance linked to life, death, and various forms of spirituality. For some, they served as places of hermitage. Notable hermits who stayed in this area are Saint Romuald and Saint Sylvester. Of course, hermits were not only male; indeed, monasticism appears generally to have had an older tradition among women than men. 

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Address Piazzale Fedeli, Genga AN

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MADONNA OF FRASASSI SHRINE
MADONNA OF FRASASSI SHRINE
MADONNA OF FRASASSI SHRINE

SANTA MARIA INFRA SAXA HERMITAGE

Linked to female monasticism in the Frasassi area is the hermitage and oratory of Santa Maria Infra Saxa, built from the Early Middle Ages. Mentioned in documents from the year 1000, this tiny building is joined to the rocky face of the mountain, half suspended over the cliff. It was linked to a monastic community of women whose monastery is thought to have been on the summit. The Benedictine nuns came to the Cave of the Blessed Virgin to pray and live a life of asceticism. These places were likely chosen because they were isolated and difficult to reach, making them conducive to communion with God and full of spirituality. Thus the sacredness associated with them since prehistory was perpetuated.

MADONNA OF FRASASSI SHRINE
MADONNA OF FRASASSI SHRINE
MADONNA OF FRASASSI SHRINE
MADONNA OF FRASASSI SHRINE
MADONNA OF FRASASSI SHRINE
MADONNA OF FRASASSI SHRINE
MADONNA OF FRASASSI SHRINE
MADONNA OF FRASASSI SHRINE
MADONNA OF FRASASSI SHRINE

Valadier Temple

Next to Santa Maria infra Saxa, right at the centre of the cave, stands the Madonna of Frasassi shrine, also known as the Valadier Temple, because it is generally attributed to the style of architect Giuseppe Valadier. Built in the neoclassical style, the shrine was commissioned in 1819 by Cardinal Annibale della Genga, who would later become Pope Leo XII, and was inaugurated in 1828. A lead-covered dome sits atop the octagonal plan temple, whose main structure is built from local limestone quarried near the cave.

A white Carrara marble statue of the Virgin with Child, attributed to the school of Antonio Canova, once stood on the altar built from local alabaster and is now kept at the Museum of Genga “Art, History, Territory”. 

INTERESTING FACTS:

-       The Venus of Frasassi was discovered in the cave in 2008. This small sculpture belongs to the stylistic tradition of the Venus figurines of Gravettian culture, dating to the Upper Palaeolithic phase between 28,000 and 20,000 years ago. The Frasassi Venus weighs just over 60 grams and is 8.7 centimetres in length.

-       A wooden image of the Madonna used to be worshipped at Santa Maria Infra Saxa until it was accidentally burned in the first half of the 20th century and replaced with the present stone statue.

-       Bread ovens, coins and human bones all came to light during construction work on the Valadier Temple. This demonstrates that the caves of the Gola di Frasassi gorge have been used and frequented by humans since prehistoric times, not only for shelter or as dwelling places, but mainly as places of worship and for funerary purposes.

-       During the festive season, this part of the landscape serves as a natural backdrop to one of the most important and evocative live nativity scenes in Italy, with around 300 people taking part.

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