The Sanctuary of Montevergine is in the province of Avellino, in the Campania Region. Not a very long way from Naples, the sanctuary is visited by devoted pilgrims on February, 2nd, which corresponds to the Candlemas day, when Christ appears in the Temple.
History says that a young Virgin Mary appeared to two young men, a same-sex couple, who were going to be martyrized because of they love. The miracle moved people to consider that same sex love had to be accepted and the community needed to become more tolerant. The Madonna of Montevergine is, in effects “the Virgin who forgives everyone”.
It was 1256 and since then the Madonna of Montevergine is celebrated with a procession to her sanctuary. The “Juta” (meaning “the going” in dialect) gathers the devoted from the whole Region and beyond.
This Virgin is called the “Madonna dei Femminielli”, because she is considered the patron of those believers who do not identify themselves with any sex. Actually, “Femminielli” in the local tradition, does not refer to gays or lesbians, nay to all those without a binary expression of human sex. The word includes bisexuals, transgenders, cisgenders… no prejudice is acceptable when praying the Madonna of Montevergine. “We have this openness in this sanctuary, which does not refuse anyone” and “everyone takes part to the procession with his/her own heart and talk to Madonna”, people say during the “Juta”.
It seems that the Madonna di Montevergine used to be depicted as a black Madonna and for this reason she is still nicknamed as “the Slave Mama”, meaning also the Virgin Mary who accepts everyone, including queers and enslaved people. It may be also seen as “black” because she enshrines all those aspects of darkness and unpredictable aspects which cannot be told.
The border between sacred and profane is overlapped during the procession, where singing and praying and playing the tambourines are all in one. These playful attitudes recall of pre-christian times, when priests in Montevergine and devoted to goddess Cybele used to castrate themselves to offer the organs as sign of rebirth. These eunuch priests, dressed like women, used to be recalled for their ecstatic and orgiastic processions playing and singing on the way.