Visit Tindari sanctuary
The village of Tindari town is in the north-east of Sicily, a few kilometres east of Milazzo, and the sanctuary is on a clifftop in the centre of the village.
Explore the sanctuary of Tindari
Italy This Way comment: although the sanctuary at Tindari is a recent build, it is of a high standard and the sanctuary contains an important 9th century statue, and you can also enjoy the views across the Tyrrhenian Sea and a trip to the archaeological park while you are here so a visit is recommended.
Note that to reach Tindari you park in a car park at the bottom of the hill and a frequent tourist bus carries visitors to the village and sanctuary - or of course you can walk up the hill if you prefer, about two kilometres each way, but the bus doesn't cost very much.
The Sanctuary of the Black Madonna in Tindari actually stands in the position where Tindari castle once stood.
The religious connection starts when the statue of the Black Madonna arrived in a ship at the coast below in the 12th century. The statue was being transported to Europe from the east because Christian religious icons were being destroyed. According to legend the Madonna statue prevented the ship from leaving the bay and the ship could only set sail after the statue had been removed from the ship.
The statue was carried up the hill to be placed in a small church that stood here at that time. The statue attracted many pilgrims - and still does today - so the church had to be replaced with a larger church, better able to cope with the visitors.
Inside Tindari sanctuary, in the altar, you can see the statue of the Black Madonna. The statue is in black wood, cedar of lebanon, and dates from the 9th century and is of the Virgin with the young Jesus on her lap. The inscription below the statue reads "Nigra Sum Sed Formosa" which apparently translates as "I am black but beautiful / shapely".
In 2018 the sanctuary was officially granted the status of a basilica by Pope Francis.
The sanctuary and region has had a turbulent history over the last 1200 years including control by the Byzantines, Swabians, Aragonese, Sanish and, of course, Italian. It seems remarkable that, even if the building was frequently damaged, the statue has been preserved intact during this entire period.
The existing 16th century structure has been preserved but much of what we see today is a substantial construction from the 1950s and 1960s, built because the existing building became insufficient to welcome the pilgrims that were arriving. The statue of the Black Madonna was brought to the new sanctuary in 1975.
The statues in the facade either side of the bronze doors represent Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Inside the doors you reach a large atrium with colourful stained glass windows representing the four cardinal virtues. The central nave is separated from the side naves by octagonal marble columns and has a large painting of the Triumph of the Madonna decorating the ceiling above the nave.
Further paintings cover many of the surfaces inside Tindari sanctuary, not perhaps of the quality we would see in a baroque or byzantine church in Sicily but overall creating an impressive spectacle. Another notable feature is the altar in the centre of the transept.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Sicily guide.