The year is 717 and a new Roman Emperor, Leo III, has just come into power. Immediately he boldly declares his “Iconoclastic Rule” that venerating religious images is idolatry and not pleasing to God. Leo orders the destruction of religious statues and paintings. Many Christians in an effort to preserve these items flee Rome and travel south. A few of these individuals transport a particular statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary holding her Divine Son Jesus. As they arrive at an abandoned stone shrine dedicated to the pagan god Apollo, near a lake in Naples called Lago di Patria, they enter it with the statue. Digging a deep hole inside the cave-like structure, they bury their precious treasure to protect it from travelling Roman soldiers sworn to carry out Leo’s Rule of destruction.
It is now 700 years later in the early 1400’s. Peasant farmers traveling north from the southern coast of Italy stop to rest as their oxen graze on grass and drink water from Lago di Patria. Suddenly, the oxen become disturbed and pound their hooves into the ground, in one concentrated area. Curious, the farmers dig into the dirt and soon hear a woman’s muffled cry from beneath the ground. They continue to dig, and discover the statue of Mary with child, in perfect condition, not having suffered the same extinction of the stone shrine of Apollo.
They clean it off, place it on their cart and continue their northern journey. As they approach the town of Casandrino, once again their oxen exhibit strange behavior. They stop in front of a small chapel dedicated to Our Lady and immediately fall to the ground and refuse to rise and continue on. Being unable to move the oxen, the farmers place the statue inside the chapel. Soon villagers visit the statue and some who are crippled experience miraculous recoveries. They leave at the foot of the statue their crutches and canes as thanks and proof for all to see. As the miracles continue, the townspeople place the statue on a cart pulled by oxen and process through each and every street in the town of Casandrino, to honor Mary. They still continue this procession annually in August!
It is very early 1900’s and Italian immigrants begin arriving in America. Some of them come from Casandrino and bring with them the stories of miracles of that statue and the original Neapolitan music scores that were played during the procession. The stories are so inspiring that in 1906, they hold the first procession of Our Lady of Casandrino, in the Chambersburg section of Trenton, NJ at the newly built St. Joachim’s Church.
Once Upon A Time
(1,293 years ago)