My loved travellers, today I decided to discuss about one among the most ancient churches of Sicily: The sanctuary of Gibilmanna. Truth to tell, I found very poor information about this sanctuary on the Internet. For this reason, I thought you deserved to better know this church, especially if you want to visit it over the year, on the occasion of the summer, but also in the autumn, spring or in the winter. Indeed, this sanctuary witnessed legendary miracles you must absolutely know, such as the apparition of the face of Jesus. In the following paragraphs, you’ll find complete tourist information about this sanctuary.
Sanctuary of Gibilmanna: where is it?
The sanctuary is in the small district of Gibilmanna, a hamlet included in the territory of Cefalù. It is only five kms from the downtown, in province of Palermo. To visit the sanctuary just from the town of Cefalù, you’ll take 10 -12 minutes, only (by car). If you want to reach the church on foot, you’ll take about an hour. The sanctuary is placed on the western side of a mount called Pizzo Sant’Angelo, 850 meters above the sea level. The latter is included in the Madonie mountains. Hence, if you ride this path on foot, you’ll enjoy a beautiful mountain landscape filled with chestnut and oak trees. The sanctuary is nestled right on this mount. However, if you visit it in winter, you could find a snowy path. The name of Gibilmanna seems to be derived from the Arab words “Gibel el Iman”, namely: The mount of faith.
The foundation of the sanctuary of Gibilmanna is still unknown and uncertain. It is sure it was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, such as the most of churches in Sicily and Italy. According to an ancient tradition, it was one of the six Benedictine monasteries that Great Gregory built before his election as a Pope. The building date runs from 540 to 604 A C. The monastery was abandoned in the XI century because of the Saracen invasion. Due to the lack of maintenance, it went entirely to ruin. Only the church survived, thank to the help of devours. In 1228, Arduin, the bishop of Cefalù bestowed Gibilmanna with the title of Priory. The priors were in charge until 1535, when the Church was given out to the rising Capuchin order. The Capuchins built six rooms on the ruins of the ancient monastery and added small houses as refectory and workshop. The construction of the new church started in 1619 and finished in 1624. The chapel of the Virgin Mary was completed a year later. Since that year, several changes have been made and in 1760 the marble statue of the Virgin ( placed in the chapel) was crowned by the Cefalu bishop with gold crowns sent by the Vatican ( see the image). The external façade was renovated in 1907. On the occasion of the 100 years from the death of Saint Francis, on September, 7, 1927, sculptor from Palermo Francesco Garufi set the forecourt with a group of beautiful stairs designed by Misuraca architect. In December of 1954, Pope Pio XII declared the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of Saint Mary of Gibilmanna, heavenly patron and protector of the entire city of Cefalù. The holiday of the Holy Mary of Gibilmanna takes place every year on the first Sunday of September.
Art and architecture
What you can see outside
The external architectural style of the sanctuary is very similar to the one of Cefalù cathedral, the sanctuary of Gibilmanna seems to be a stunning thumbnail of its famous relative. The style is a mix of Roman, Gothic and Norman, with two side pinnacles containing the bells. The facade has also two lateral clocks and three rosettes, namely circular windows which enlighten and separate the central nave. The middle rosette contains a picture of the Virgin Mary. The main entrance has three arches supported by columns and two opened side rosettes. On the roof of the church, you can see the cross inside a circle, while the rim is crenellated as a medieval tower.
What you can see inside
Inside, in front of the central nave, over the main altar, you can admire a great painting of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary dating back 1623. However, the most ancient work is a fresco of the Virgin with her child, retrieved by the Benedictine monastery and kept in the chapel dedicated to the Virgin. On the right, you can see an ancient wooden crucifix maybe dating back to the time of the Benedictines. According to a legend, it is told that the crucifix talked to a priest and said to him: “ My mother rules this place, turn your prayers for you and your family to her”. On the left, you can see the chapel of the sacred heart of Jesus, finished in 1917. The sanctuary contains many valuable and stunning relics, such as a marble statue of the Virgin and her child in the chapel dedicated to her. I can’t mention all, otherwise you’ll ever feel the need to visit the church personally. However, I want to mention the ones linked to miracles happened in this same church, such as the painting titled Ecce Homo ( see the image), Here is the man, painted by father Sebastiano from Gatteri, who used herbal juices and flowers to depict the face of Christ that for a miracle, he saw on the sacramental bread while he celebrated the holy Mass.
Over the years, the capuchin fathers also turned the sanctuary into an interesting cultural centre In the surroundings of the church you can also visit a Museum and a library containing ancient and valuable volumes going from the Renaissance to the past century. The museum ( see the image) is opened in the summer, only, from 10 -13 and from 15.30 – 17.30. You could also visit in winter, but only if you find a priest available to open it for you. The library, instead, is closed because it needs renovation works. I hope it’ll reopen soon.
The sanctuary is dedicated to the Holy Virgin because of a legend. According to this mystical story, during a storm, aboard a ship, there was a statue of the Virgin and her child. The ship landed in the medieval village of Roccella castle. In the meanwhile, the Virgin appeared in the dream of a priest, prompting him to retrieve the statues in the ship. The above mentioned statue was just the one placed in the chapel of the sanctuary of Gibilmanna and the church was forever dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Opening hours sanctuary of Gibilmanna
Now that you know the true story of this sanctuary, I suppose you want to absolutely to visit it.
Here are the opening hours.
You can visit this sanctuary every day , in any seasons and on weekdays from 7.30 to 17.30.
On Sunday and for holidays, from 7.30 and up to 18.
In July and August, you can visit the sanctuary up to 20.30.
The visit is for free admission.
Tours to visit the sanctuary
It is really hard to find interesting tours to visit the Sanctuary of Gibilmanna. I searched for them over and over again. Some tours are really expensive and have a price of more than 300 euros. However, I found a more affordable option! That is a day trip excursion from Palermo to Cefalù, which will drive you straight to visit the evocative Sanctuary of Gibilmanna. To book the tour, see this link.