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Not to be missed: La Candelora, A Day of Inclusivity

February 2 in Irpinia is a day unlike any other celebrating tradition, spirituality, inclusivity and religion. Devotees from all walks of life from around the world - Catholics, the LGBTQ+ community and so many more - join together high in the mountains above the village of Mercogliano at the Sanctuary of Montevergine to celebrate the Madonna Schiavona - one of Italy’s black Madonnas recognized for her generous and protective powers. 

This is La Candelora.

If you’re wondering how this all came together, you wouldn’t be alone, so let me elaborate. 

  • How did this all get started? The legend told to me was that in the 1200s, a gay couple was caught together by their families, a major sin according to the beliefs of the time and they were tied to a tree in the winter and left to die. However, they were miraculously later seen in the village in good health after the Madonna had saved them from their disastrous fate. From that day on, the miracle of the Madonna’s mercy was marked by celebration and that brings us to today. Now, every February 2, La Candelora is a day-long celebration where people from all walks of life are welcome.

  • So what exactly happens on February 2? Are 75 year old women who go to mass 12 times a day (only a slight exaggeration) really dancing the region’s traditional tarantella with men in high heels and boas to celebrate the Madonna? Absolutely. Around 9:00 in the morning, those making the pilgrimage to the sanctuary will start the 1.5 hour hike from the center of Ospedaletto D’alpinolo and traverse the now well marked path to the festival and church service that starts at 11:00am. Do not miss the famous painting of the Black Madonna and appreciate the beauty of her chaple even if you’re not religious.

  • How do I get there? You will find people of all ages making their way up throughout the day, so no need to panic like I did on my first trek when I thought I’d be doing this hike all on my own. If a moderate hike is not on your agenda (I did it in sneakers and jeans), there is the funicular from Mercogliano (wait times can be an hour or more on this day) or buses that make the 20-30 minute winding drive up the mountain from Ospedaletto as well. I’d recommend you hike up just like in the old days if you can. It really is special.

  • And people really come from all around the world just for this? Yes, and the event is gaining in popularity and recognition. On this year’s hike up the mountain I made friends with people who had come from France. I can’t wait to meet up with them again next year.

  • What else do I need to know? A couple of things: dress warm and in layers. While I got nice and toasty on the hike up, once we were up there around 4,000 ft of elevation it was cold. Even with the sun out. And in a very warm winter. Also, while the bathrooms are very clean, the lines for coffee and food were long. I’d recommend bringing a backpack with a sandwich, snacks, wine, water and coffee so you aren’t left in a lurch. I’d also be remiss not to recommend eating at the amazing Ristorante del gallo e della volpe in Ospedaletto- a must stop for anyone in the area.

  • Is there somewhere I can learn even more? Absolutely. My friend and collaborator Danielle Oteri from Feast Travel has even more on this incredible day here.

  • Come see for yourself. I’ll be organizing a group trip on Feb 2. Send me a note if you’d like to join!

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