A mix of local history and legend makes the Church of Piedigrotta unique in its genre. For hundreds of years the story has been handed down of a hypotetical shipwreck which happened in the middle of the 1600s: A ship with a Neapolitan crew was surprised by a violent storm, the sailors assembled in the captain’s cabin where a painting of the Madonna of Piedigrotta was kept and all together started praying, making a vow to the Vergine: In case of their life being saved, they would have build a chapel and dedicate it to her.
The ship sank but the sailors were able to swim to the shore. With them, the painting of the Madonna of Piedigrotta and the ship’s bell (dated 1932) were brought to the shore by the waves.
Determinated to keep the vow, the sailors dug out of the rock a little chapel and located the sacred image. There were other storms and the painting, which was taken away because of the waves which endlessy entered the cave, was always found back where the ship had sunk near the rocks. There are no other documents to prove this story, but the cult of the sacred image is very old and passed down amongst the local population, even if it doesn’t seem impossible that the painting really comes from an actual shipwreck. Towards 1880, a local artist, Angelo Barone, decided to dedicate his life to the chapel of Piedigrotta, everyday he would have walk there and with his pickaxe, he would expand the cave. Angelo died on May 19th 1917, his son Alfonso took over and dedicated to the Church 40 years of his life. Because of him, the Church took its definitive appearance. After his death, no one kept doing what Alfonso and his father Angelo did. Unfortunately at the beginning of the 60s the Church was subjected to vandalism, but luckly, at the end of the decade, a nephew of Angelo and Alfonso Barone, named Giorgio, decided to return to Pizzo from Canada where he had moved to and had become a famous sculptor. He was meant to stay in his birthplace for only two weeks, but after having visited the Church and seeing it was reduced to rubble, he decided to try and restore it. He stayed in Pizzo and worked on the restoration of the church for several months, working without interruption to recreate the masterpiece that his two uncles had created. The restoraion was finished in 1968.
The outer facade is made of stone in a very simple style. Poor both in its form and in its materials. A series of windows illuminate the inside of the Church. One can see from the openings on the right, the two levels of the original hermitage. Some windows were carved directly from the rock. On the roof there are some openings that illuminate the deeper parts of the Church, an iron cross and a statue of the Madonna with its Child, protecting the people of the sea.
The Church is incorrectly described as a cave excavated in tuff (a soft type of milestone). In reality it is not a stuff rock but a magmatic rock; Piedigrotta is situated on the sedimentary rock of marine’s origin classified in scope as sandstone.