The story of Our Lady of Liberty goes back nearly one and a half thousand years to the time of St. Barbatus who was then the Bishop of Benevento.
At that time the city, and the surrounding countryside, were living in fear. The Byzantine Greek armies had already inflicted many horrors on other towns in southern Italy and now they had set up camp in the valley between Benevento and the neighbouring hillside towns which included Pietrelcina.
Without help, their city and the countryside around, would surely have been lost. He promised that if they honoured their Christian faith, and gave up the pagan worship that still lingered in their culture, God would deliver them and give them peace. This was around the year 650 AD. Against all odds, the armies packed up and left for good. The city and villages survived and they remained faithful to their Christian beliefs. The Bishop had also told them to ask the Mother of God to pray for them. He told them to pray to her under the title ‘Madona Della Libera’ which means ‘Our Lady of Liberty’ or Deliverance.
This devotion spread all over the south of Italy but in Pietrelcina, it has been kept alive in a very personal way through miraculous interventions over many years.
The latest historical incidence, involving the whole town, was in 1854 when Pietrelcina residents were dropping dead by the dozen from a Cholera epidemic. By November that year it was reported that people were collapsing on the streets and the situation was getting worse. Remembering the old story of deliverance, the town decided to act. On December 2nd, they crowded into the parish church before the 200 year old wooden statue of their beloved ‘Libera’ and afterwards took her in procession through the streets so that death, like the armies, would flee before her. From that moment, no more sickness or death was reported in Pietrelcina.
They still keep the feast of Madona della Libera in December but also celebrate the festa and the procession of the statue through the town, in early August. This allows people from the surrounding towns, past residents of Pietrelcina and other visitors to travel to Pietrelcina and take part in this very spiritual event and the many festive and cultural events that mark the occasion.
For the entire week preceding the event, many religious activities take place, not the least of which is daily mass and rosary at 5.30 in the morning. There is also a prayer vigil which takes place at midnight, just before the main day.
It has been reported that many miracles and favours have been granted through the intercession of Our Lady of Liberty and, as a thanksgiving token, people have left gifts of gold chains and medallions which, over the years, have been woven into a mantle which covers the statue during the procession.
It is estimated that over 40 thousand people attend the 3 day festa each year and it is still regarded as a solemn and important occasion.
Read about Padre Pio and Madona Della Libera