The cult of Our Lady of Miracles in Alcamo dates back to 21 June 1547, the day people remember the Madonna‘s apparition to some women near a stream running north of Alcamo.
According to tradition while washing their clothes in the torrent, the women, with a blind and a deaf one among them, saw the apparition of a woman with a child and were hit by a gust of pebbles moved during the apparition, but without getting any injury or pain; on the contrary, after being hit by the pebbles, they strangely felt a certain sense of wellbeing and recovered their health. After learning the news, the women’s husbands, thinking that it was a joke, went to investigate about the event, thinking that someone was hidden among the bushes around there, but they didn’t find anybody.
Then the local authorities inquired on the spot, cut down the near grove and found the ruins of a “cuba”, an old arc of a mill that nobody remembered any longer, and inside there was a fresco on a stone made by an anonymous painter of the 13th century representing Our Lady with the Child Jesus, which at first the believers called “Madonna Fons Misericordiae” (that is Our Lady Source of Mercy).
After this discovery all the people started praying before the image rediscovered and in the following days there were several miracles.
Then since 1547, Our Lady of Miracles became the patron saint of Alcamo, in substitution of the Holy Crucified, who was the patron saint of Alcamo and other near small towns (among which Calatafimi and Salemi). The old patron saint’s memory however remains in Alcamo people’s mind: in fact they call San Francesco di Paola “santu patri”(whose translation means “patron saint”) as the Church named after him was called the Holy Crucified Church.
The Madonna’s discovered image was first called “Our Lady Source of Mercy”, but thanks to the high number of subsequent miracles, in 1583 the name was changed into “Our Lady of Miracles”.
Further to these events, Don Fernando Vega, Alcamo’s governor and justice captain, ordered the construction of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Miracles, which hosts the Madonna’s image. Inside the Church there is a white marble sarcophagus containing the mortal remains of the governor Don Fernando Vega, according to his will.
Every year in Alcamo there are the celebrations in honour of Our Lady of Miracles since 19 June until 21 of June.This is the most important religious and folkloristic festivity in Alcamo. The real celebrations are often anticipated by other events, so extending the feast to about two weeks, in this way the beginning of the celebrations changes every year, while the last day is always the 21 of June.
The traditional descent to the sanctuary is put on during the so-called “Historical Cortege” with period costumes.This cortege, which anticipates the real “calata”, passes through Corso 6 Aprile and Piazza Ciullo, and finally ends at the Castle of the Counts of Modica (also called “Castle of Alcamo”). The workmen of the association “I Cavalieri di San Giorgio” (San Giorgio’s knights). take part in the cortege too.
In the past there were the horse races along Corso 6 Aprile too (and in the last years also in Viale Italia), but this tradition (called “Palio di Alcamo”) was then interrupted owing to the requests done by the Associazione Nazionale Tutela Animali, the International Organization for Animal Protection and by the Observatory Zoomafia of Lega anti vivisezione, (organizations which protect animals) that denounced the abuses animals suffered and the presence of people involved in illicit activities.