What would you do if one of your wedding gifts started crying?
In Siracusa in 1953, a young couple got married and received all manner of wedding gifts, including a plaster image of the Sacred Heart of Mary. Italians, even if they’re not especially religious, hold a devotion to the Blessed Virgin, and the couple hung the image in their bedroom.
A few months later, the new wife found out she was pregnant. Unfortunately, she experienced complications, which caused her to be bedridden for stretches of several days and occasionally lose her eyesight. After one of these episodes, she woke up, her eyesight restored, and found the image of Mary staring back at her – crying.
Like any good Catholic couple, they called the priest. The image continued crying for four days, at the end of which the priest called a scientist. The scientist collected some of the tears, ran some tests, and found out that they were, in fact, human tears. The people of Siracusa very excitedly sent the story of what happened along with the test results off to Rome, and the Pope very quickly approved the miracle and devotion to la Madonna delle Lacrime.
The miraculous image needed a home, and the poor working family’s home where it had decided to be in the first place was deemed insufficiently grand. So, the people of Siracusa built one that was befitting a miraculous image: La Basilica Santuario della Madonna delle Lacrime (lah bah-see-lee-kah sahn-too-ahr-ee-oh de-lah mah-doh-nah de-ley lah-kree-mey; the Basilica Sanctuary of Our Lady of Tears).
The first time I arrived in Siracusa, the man working in the B&B I stayed in asked if I had noticed the big cement teardrop looming over the city. I hadn’t – because when you’re walking from the train station to Ortigia, it’s hidden by a row of buildings – but I quickly found what he was talking about. From pretty much any panoramic point in the city, you can see the top of the tear as it perpetually falls – but never splooshes – onto the city of Siracusa.
The Santuario is, indeed, a large cement teardrop, designed to mirror the miracle of the crying Madonna – la Lacrimazione (lah lah-kree-mah-tsee-oh-ney), in italiano – in its architectural form. I have to say, from the outside, it doesn’t look like much (I’m not much of a fan of newfangled architecture; give me a Gothic church any day). I took a few pictures of the outside, but didn’t go in, and opted to go to mass the church of Santa Lucia on Ortigia.
This time, though, I was staying at a place closer to the train station on mainland Siracusa. It was only a five-minute walk to the Santuario, so I decided to attend mass there. After all, the people of Siracusa believe it to be very important to their city and their lifestyle, so I figure a visitor should take a gander at it if they want to see what the city is really like.
Let me tell you, the inside was much more impressive than the outside.
Even though the church is circular, the bottom of a teardrop being round, the seats are arranged more like theater seats than like a church-in-the-round, where the pews would go all the way around the altar. This means that there was a single point that you can focus on: the main altar, behind which is the miraculous image. There are several entrances around the church, and each one opens up into a different section of the church gardens (which are also arranged in a circle). Above the main part of the church, the ceiling shoots upward where the trail of the tear lags behind the actual drop. The whole architectural experience is one of fluid continuity.
And all because of a weeping wedding gift.