Feast of the Madonna delle Milizie - Scicli
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Feast of the Madonna delle Milizie - Scicli

The Madonna of the Militia

Pascucci canvas
Pascucci canvas

"The Madonna on horseback"
In 1736 the Sacred Congregation of Rites decided that the feast of Maria Santissima delle Milizie, once a movable feast, should be celebrated on the Saturday before Passion Sunday. According to a widespread tradition, found by various authors of historical and religious works, fifteen days before Easter 1091, a clash between Roger the Norman and the Emir Belcàne took place in the marina of Scicli, miraculously resolved in favor of the Christians for the intervention of the Virgin. The episode, of course, is not confirmed, nor is it reflected in what is known about that period. Belcàne is not a recognizable character: the date of the event excludes the identification of Belcàne with Belcho or Belcamuer (Ibn al-Hawwas), as the latter died in combat in 1064. the name Belcàne could be compared to that of Benavet ( perhaps an Ibn'Abbad), the last champion of the Muslim resistance. The interpretation that tradition has given us of this episode rather brings to mind pirate actions and Barbary attacks, which occurred very frequently in the 1933th century. The party, attached to an important fair, has had an uninterrupted tradition. In 1950, edited by Giuseppe Pacetto Vanasia, a "script" in the language was drawn up in the form of a "sacred representation", which was then reprinted in XNUMX and which is currently represented.

Canvas depicting the Madonna on horseback
Canvas depicting the Madonna on horseback

Documents on the Madonna delle Milizie

Found in the archive of the Triquestre Castle
of Scicli
"Anno Domini nostra Jusu Cripti MXCI tempora quadragesime vinni in la marina di li Michenchi now dicta Donnalucata lu barbaru Ammiru Belicani Saraxino cum un maniu exercitu per dixtruiri omni quilli fidili Kriptani et our yxula et lu barbaru dogs nun chi riuxiu chi lu populo di Xicli si moxy tuctu et si armau et accursi to force him and make him flee to quillo barbarian treacherous but seeing the number of treacherous people very large if they prestraro cum the phakia on the ground and prying our Seniuri Jesu Cripto et Maria Vergine de la pietati thataru called to give you fortia and corajo in order to dislodge the Saraxini barbarians and illo et statim they saw in Chelo a cloud that isprindea ut solis cum dintra la Vergina Maria cum brandus in dextera and those who resounded to lu sou populo eu adsumecce me Civitas dilecta protegam te dextera mea xi levaro di terra of an instant and saw the exerxitu of them Normandi ut velociter eagles to help them and united tucti si moxiro ut ulminem supra quilli treacherous et them dixtructiru and the confusion and the fright were such that ipsi constipation ut more dog idrofobis durau the punia almost for a day and then the xanti xakerdoti cantaru Tedeum laudanus et lo Magnificant accompanied by the exerxito et di lo populo et la nocti tucti li Normandi et tucto lo populo si rixtaro in lo dictu locu for prigari et grateful to God and Virgin Mary who salivau de lo ecchidio of them infidili the morning is aritruau lu campo cum immense number of dead and them boats of them treacherous tucti fuguti et de then we thank you to the great Diu et Maria Vergine and is called di li pij Santi xaxerdoti Sancta Maria Militum prosciclensibus et si stableu farichi la fexta omni anno in lo jorno Saturday preceding the Sunday of paxioni jorno sollenni of la punia et cusì our was freed Land forever amen ".


Statue of the Madonna on horseback (Mother Church Scicli)
Statue of the Madonna on horseback (Mother Church Scicli)

Decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites
Decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites for the recitation of the Office and Mass, as below, on the Saturday before Passion Sunday of any year by the Clergy of the City of Scicli in memory of the Blessed Virgin called the Militia or Militia, vulgarly delli milici, given in Rome on 10 March 1736, presented and performed in Palermo on 5 March 1737, in Syracuse on 18 December 1737 and in Scicli on 30 of the same month and year. (The Church) Syracusana Having been exposed by the Chapter and the Clergy of the City of Scicli of the Diocese of Syracuse that every year on the Saturday before Passion Sunday the feast of Santa Maria Militum is celebrated with solemn magneficence and popular devotion. Militias, in the Church three miles from the city walls, in memory, as it is handed down, of the illustrious miracle that occurred in the year 1091. As, while the Saracens invaded Sicily, the inhabitants of the aforementioned city offered fasting and prayers to the Blessed Virgin , they saw a very majestic Woman in appearance, who rode a white horse, with the hand armed with a sword and immediately after they were released, therefore the Sacred Congregation of Rites was very humbly asked for permission to recite the Office and respectively to celebrate the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary as for the Madonna delle Nevi on the Saturday before Passion Sunday and, the same Congregation (after to the approval of the aforementioned miracle) kindly allowed and granted that it could in the future be recited by the clergy of the aforementioned city the required Office with the lessons of the second Nocturne to be drawn from the discourse of San Berrnardo Abbate, which are found in the Breviary on the eighth day of the Assumption and that Mass could be celebrated.
On 10 March 1736 AFZondari P. Prefect

Sanctuary where the footprint of the Madonna is preserved
Sanctuary where the footprint of the Madonna is preserved

Because Scicli does not forget "his" Madonna on horseback "Scicli, or the Madonna on horseback": this is how Lionello Fiumi titled one of his writings, underlining the profound relationship between our city and the Virgin Mary. A relationship whose root is lost in the meanders of history, which is nourished by gestures of love on both sides, and which can be summed up in the name of SANCTA MARIA MILITUM PRO SCICLENSIBUS, attributed to the Madonna, and in the event to which this refers: the intervention of the Virgin precisely in favor of her "civitas dilecta". And Scicli does not forget "his" Madonna. And in fact, having overcome the iconographic "scandal", how can we not read the lesson of the "God of hosts" who, "with a powerful hand and outstretched arm", brings Israel out of Egypt? (That is, stepping out of metaphor, how can we not read that experience of faith in which the biblical God always takes sides with the poor and oppressed?). Or again, how can we not read - metastorically - in the signs of the Virgin's victory the signs of the biblical defeat of the serpent of Eden or the dragon of the Apocalypse (icastic images of Evil)? In this sense, then, the particular historical experience of a people (the Saracen invasion, the Barbary raids and divine protection) becomes a theological "place", that is, a place where to grasp and discover the face of God who reveals his love that saves and redeems. And so, therefore, the same "memorial" of the event, relived today in the form of "sacred representation", acquires the dimension proper to the drama (Good and Evil in a duel!) With its "cathartic" function (of purification, that is of the sentiments), which sees its peak in the apparition of the statue of the Virgin (“Deus ex machina”) which, beyond appearances, becomes a harbinger of spiritual pacification. But the message of the event, it is still necessary to consider, cannot be restricted to the pure religious-ecclesial sphere. If Scicli is of the Madonna on horseback, the Madonna on horseback is of Scicli! The Madonna on horseback helped to create and maintain that identity of the Sciclitan community, entering the historical heritage of this and qualifying its features not only at a religious level, but also at a cultural and social level. Then the feast of the Mulici, with the very event to which it refers, far from being destined to a "damnatio memoriae", has a profound meaning for us Sciclitans and still arouses fruitful stimuli for reflection. In fact, it is not a question here of the revival of triumphalistic visions of the past (which in any case belongs to us), nor of falling into folklorism as an end in itself (as in certain areas today often happens), but rather the courage of wanting to learn those lessons of life that only History and the God of History can impart, for the living recovery of the identity of a people who, strong in the past, thus know how to understand the present and know how to look to the future.
Sac. Ignatius La China

Source: Municipality of Scicli


Technical sheet prepared by: Region of Sicily - Department of cultural heritage and Sicilian identity - CRicd: Regional center for inventory, cataloging and documentation and Sicilian regional film library 

Intangible Heritage Register

N. Prog. 138
Well: Feast of the Madonna delle Milizie
Book: REI - Book of celebrations
Approval date: 17-11-2010
Category: Party / Ceremony
Province: Ragusa
Municipality: Scicli
Local denomination: Mary King Mulici or Maria Mulici
Chronological News
The inhabitants of Scicli, not knowing the exact date of the apparition, venerate the Virgin on the last Saturday of May; instead originally it was celebrated in the days close to Easter. The simulacrum of the Blessed Virgin is kept in the Mother Church of Scicli. Historical texts report that the feast in honor of the Madonna delle Milizie recalls the miraculous fact of arms of 1091 when, attacked by the Saracen Emir Bel-Kan, who believed to be the master of the land of Sicily, the Norman Gran Conte Ruggero d 'Altavilla and the population of Scicli had to unite and fight together on the beach of Donnalucata the preponderant opposing forces that were about to win if the Virgin had not miraculously intervened in their favor, on the back of a white horse, accompanied by an intense blue smoke and with unsheathed sword. The intervention of the Madonna led Christians to victory.
Recurrence: Annual
Date: Last Saturday of May
Occasion: Celebrations of the patron saint. The triptych of the three great spring religious festivals that take place in Scicli concludes.
Function: Devotional
Actors: Popular actors with period clothing and weapons symbolizing the two groups of Christians and Saracens, horse racing.
Participants . Local community, clergy, devotees, tourists
Technical Information
The feast in honor of the Madonna delle Milizie begins on the last Thursday of May, it goes on on Friday but the most important day is Saturday. The most significant moment of the festival is the theatrical performance, on Saturday, of a "moresca" (ancient dance of Arab origin) in memory of the battle that took place in 1091 for the liberation of Sicily from Saracen dominion; in the performance, which has been held every year since time immemorial, the Turks (the Saracens) headed by the Emir Bel-Kan and the Christians (the Normans) led by the Grand Count Ruggero d'Altavilla face off. In the representation the evocative environments of the struggle are recreated and popular actors, with period clothes and weapons, recite on the streets retracing the most important moments of the battle, which ends with the miraculous intervention of the Virgin Mary (called "of the Militia" or "Dei Milici"), who, descended from Heaven on the back of a White Horse, frees the city from foreign siege.
Tradition has it that Maria Santissima delle Milizie represents Our Lady of Sorrows, much venerated by the Sciclitans. On Saturday morning there are continuous crackling in the streets and a thunderous beating of drums. The sailors and fishermen of the neighboring countries, despite the hateful part they play as Muslims and the sure defeat, show off their joyful festivity and their rich garments. Meanwhile, the Christian army is swelling, formed by the Sciclitans, descendants of the heroic ancestors who fought, under the protection of Mary, for the defense of the homeland and the faith. The sound of the bells invites everyone to the church where the magnificent statue of the Virgin of the Militia is located. Ruggero and his soldiers, to the sound of a band, make a tour of the town and go to the church to offer their respects to Mary. Shortly after, at a slow and grave pace, the proud Emir Bel-Kan arrives with his armed hordes; between the two leaders there are the first exchanges of invectives and threats which shortly after turn into war. The Saracens advance first, followed by the Christians; the clergy with the statue closes the procession that heads towards the plane called dell'Oliveto, where the Moorish woman is represented. The simulated Battle ends, therefore, with the miraculous intervention of the Virgin Mary, who, descended from Heaven on the back of a White Horse, frees the city from foreign siege.
After the Moorish, the image of the Madonna is carried in procession to the Sanctuary of the Militia. The journey is a bit long, but there are many devotees who make the pilgrimage. The statue arrives in the church a few hours after midnight and immediately afterwards the solemn Mass is celebrated which concludes the festivities.
Cardella, Anthony. 2002. Holy rites and legends of the Sicilian people, Palermo: Sigma.
Cross, Marcella. 2004. The seasons of the sacred: almanac of popular festivals in Sicily, Palermo: D. Flaccovio.
Pitre, Giuseppe. 1979. Patronal festivals in Sicily, Single volume, Sala Bolognese: Arnaldo Forni.
Trigilia, Melchior. 1988. The Madonna dei Milici of Scicli, Scicli: Setim.
See Dialogue in dialect between Count Ruggero and Bel-Kan from M. Trigilia, The Madonna dei Milici of Scicli, Setim Editrice, Scicli 1988, pp. 193-194.
The feast of the Madonna delle Milizie is part of the feasts of the sword, with reference to the Sicilian love for the world of chivalry. The struggles between Christians and Saracens had been experienced firsthand by the Sicilian people both during the Arab domination and on the occasion of the Turkish raids. In short, the swords of paladins are gods cutieddi Sicilians slightly longer. The Madonna delle Milizie of Scicli is perhaps the only armed Virgin in the world.
Furthermore, the Militia Festival is known throughout the world for being the only event commemorating the descent of the Virgin on horseback, who, armed with a sword, saved the Sciclitans from Saracen raids.
During the days of the festival there are side events such as the Sagra delle Teste di Turco, a typical Sciclitano dessert par excellence, with evident reference to the battle that inspires the party, and events during which it is possible to taste typical products.
Card Author: Salvatore Gambacurta
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