June 5, 2015

Saints of Craco — Madonna Della Stella

The Chapel of the Madonna della Stella, 1990, Craco Vecchio 
Photos courtesy of the Craco Society
Reprinted from the June 2015 Craco Society Bulletin
Craco Vecchio supported many churches and chapels over its long history but most notable in recent times was the main church (San Nicola), a Franciscan monastery (St. Peter’s), a small chapel in the center of town with a small cemetery (Santa Maria di Monserrato) and the chapel outside of town on the road to Stigliano—the Chapel of the Madonna della Stella. 
This chapel is the only one of the original churches in Craco Vecchio still left intact and useable. 
Nowadays the Feast of the Madonna della Stella is celebrated twice, the fist Sunday of May in Craco Vecchio and on the second Sunday in August in Craco Peschiera. 
The image below shows a postcard image of the chapel while the one up top dates from 1990. 
Postcard image of the Chapel of the Madonna della Stella
The chapel is located on the north side of Craco Vecchio and according to Prof. Dino D’Angella in Note Storiche sul Comune di Craco, the chapel was founded in the first half of the 17th-century around the time of the construction of the Chiesa Madre. The chapel always held sacred artifacts, including the body of San Vincenzo when it first arrived in 1792. 
In the eighteenth century the 17.5 x 30 ft. chapel also had three gardens and some houses as part of the complex. After the Unification of Italy it was restored and then again in 1904 and 1951 with the financial assistance of Crachesi in America. More recently, the chapel was modernized. The inside of this church in a rural setting is simple with a couple of small frescos. 
Chapel interior, 1990
In Omaggio alla Stella, a book about the Madonna, there is a bit more about the architecture describing the high marble alter dating to 1909, the wrought iron gate, and the main façade of carved wood. The chapel, which was initially larger than it is today was scaled back due to landslide damage in the 1930’s. The property description from that era also mentions features now gone but included a side chapel and external oven that was used to roast meats on the feast day. 
Omaggio alla Stella also relates the story of the Madonna della Stella connecting it to the adjacent well where the chapel is now located. Apparently, centuries ago a natural spring was located there and a shepherd bringing his flock to water discovered the statue. The statue from the 1700s survived hundreds of years of movement from and to the chapel for annual procession events. Unfortunately, the infant did not fare as well. Those with a keen eye will see the difference in the child shown in older photographs (see photos below). But this was due to theft. There were at least two Infants as part of the statue along with valuables of jewelry, crowns and scepters. The theft of the original Child occurred in the late 1960s.
The image to the left shows one of the two infants that were stolen along with the golden ornaments. The center photograph shows the statue sans infant and with different paint scheme. The color photograph shows the statue today
The centuries long devotion to the Madonna goes far beyond annual festivals, Masses, daily visits to the chapel, or workers passing to and from work in the fields stopping to pray. More indicative of their fervor was the unique aspect of the Crachesi naming their daughters “Stella” as a veneration to this Madonna.