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My beloved Madonna.

My beloved Madonna.

The quaint village of Monopoli, Italy nestles into the Adriatic, just south of Pulignano a Mare. Our tour guide, Daniela, thought there might be a Black Madonna, my sought-after Goddess, in the local church. Our bus parked at the picturesque harbor which is surrounded by fishing boats but hauntingly deserted. We, as a 10-person group, wandered up the hill navigating the quiet, narrow streets in search of life. Real and rustic, clean laundry dangling from the balconies around every corner, there were no tourists except us. This village has a calm charm, everyday life going along in a nonchalant manner.

Colorful Monopoli!

Colorful Monopoli!

The Cathedral of the Madonna of the Madia’s exterior is the typical limestone foundation and could be any vintage house of worship. Perhaps ordinary on the outside but crossing the thresh hold, almost in unison, we breathed in a gasp of awe. This sanctuary had all the criteria of “wow.” We had learned that the Roman Catholic Church, in its attempt to win back Worshippers from the Reformation movement,  ordered the creation of the ornate, elaborate sculpture known as Baroque. Over the top design and architecture was the standard of the day.

Wow

Wow

This church had all that but it seemed more visually appealing, with softer lines, lighter domed ceilings and – a Black Madonna. My glimpse first went vertically down the main aisle, glancing left and right at the intricately carved pillars.

Baroque at its best.

Baroque at its best.

Then my eyes slowly climbed up to view a recessed white domed ceiling etched with brilliant golds and scarlet reds – stunning. Still examining the church’s lines, my gaze finally came to rest on a painting cradled in the center of the upper level. It is framed with a heavily carved panel of wood, angels on either side protecting her. We climbed the stairs to get a closer look. A middle-aged man moored himself in one of the curved pews, his hands working a rosary. I felt like such an intruder but this was my chance to come face to face with the Earth Mother. The Madonna is not black, yet not white either. My guess is that she is Middle Eastern.

Such contentment.

Such contentment.

According to the story, in the 12th century, this Madonna painting was sitting atop a raft of logs floating at sea and miraculously arrived in the port of Monopoli. A sign from God, the good villagers used the wood to begin building the church and eventually, a place to house the Madonna painting that dates back to the Byzantine era. Downstairs, another replica tells the story and displays a chunk of the wood intended to originate the church. This unique Madonna is a destination for pilgrims in need of her healing powers. Of all the churches I’ve experienced in Europe, this gorgeous holy house, tucked into this simple city, filled my heart with a sense of love, peace and gratitude I cannot explain.

Just plucked purple!

Just plucked purple!

Adjacent to the church, a tiny farmer’s market alive with local shoppers, displayed the best of seasonal veggies. The vendor’s lively nature, engaged us with their laughter, speaking Italian to us like we can understand them. “Take my picture!” they exclaim, as my camera follows their expressions. I feel immediate warmth and a difference from the French markets where the vendors never have seemed to appreciate their photos being shared.

Proud of his produce.

Proud of his produce.

The artichokes are at the height of the season and their purple tips and long stems prove they have been freshly cut.

One of my favorite veggies. Love the purple expressions!

One of my favorite veggies. Love the purple expressions!

The long, thick, bumpy beans – favas – are a favorite ingredient in the south.

Ummm. Favas.

Ummm. Favas.

I purchase some fresh almonds and notice sliced and dried fava beans. So this is how they easily make the bases for pasta sauces! I buy a Euros’ worth and take a photo of the happy seller raising his one finger gesturing “1 Euro.”

One Euro!

One Euro!

Another unusual veggie, feathers of thin green stalks, reminiscent of fennel caught my eye. Chicory I am told. Ever since eating chicory at our “crudo” dinner, I am hooked.

My new total favorite-Italian chicory. One of my dear friends found me some seed and they will be planted this month!

My new total favorite-Italian chicory. One of my dear friends found me some seeds and they will be planted this month!

My garden will be Italian-themed in an ode to this vacation

The best things in life are the unexpected.