What’s the Story Behind the Black Madonna at the Church of Santa Maria Assunta?

The Amalfi Coast is a show of higgledy-piggledy buildings layered onto an imposing cliff face. Known for its beautiful array of colours and its fascinating and lengthy history, Positano is worth a visit if you’re looking to uncover the rich past of Italy and witness some old traditions.

The Church of Santa Maria Assunta perches on a cliff against a stunning backdrop of ocean – it’s the picture perfect spot. But aside from being a pretty addition to the Amalfi coastline, the church boasts an interesting backstory which can still be felt beneath the exquisite domed roof.

Legend has it that pirate ships once ruled the area, travelling through nearby waters carry plunder like the Byzantine painting of the Black Madonna that can now be found in the Church of Santa Maria Assunta. The time period of this tale dates back to the 12th century. The legendary narrative continues with a violent storm that hit the coastline. The ship of Saracen pirates didn’t stand a chance, but in true mythical style, the painting of Mary cried out “Posa, posa” (which directly translates as “lay me down”) and the boat glided safely into the harbour.

This of course led the pirates on board to revel in wonder at the Black Madonna speaking and saving them from the devastating storm, and they quickly became Christians in light of the event. The painting was taken in by the locals, and the town was soon given the name Positano after the words Mary cried from the ocean.

The church where the painting is now displayed began life as the abbey of Positano’s Benedictine monastery in the 12th century. It was during this year that it became the home of the Black Madonna, but the Romanesque building soon became a victim of neglect when the town became tired of battling with plunderers and pirates.

The history of the Black Madonna forms an important part of Positano history – it is, after all, thought to be how the Amalfi town got its name – and witnessing the painting in all its glory almost brings back visuals of 12th century plunderers gliding their way to shore in awe in the midst of a raging storm.

As well as its fascinating backstory, the Black Madonna’s home – the Church of Santa Maria Assunta – is a breath-taking piece of architecture that forms an iconic silhouette against Positano’s skyline, and is definitely worth a visit if you’re passing through.

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