It is not an easy way to get to the Basilica of Santa Maria del Lauro, just outside the historic centre . Several curves characterized the S.S145 state road that you need to cross to get here, but you surely will lose your gaze on the wonderful view overlooking the sea. The basilica has a majestic neoclassical architecture, but with a baroque bell tower.
It is the main church of Meta and the locals are particularly devoted to it: it represents a strong identifying feature of this maritime population.
Basilica of Santa Maria del Lauro: Features
The neoclassical facade of the basilica dates back to the first half of the 19th century. All its decorations are in “stucco”. The entrance portal is in iron, but behind it, there is another in wood.
The interior has a Latin cross plan, with a central nave, a barrel vault, separated from the two sides, with a cross vault.
Inside there are several chapels. The main one, made of marble, is dedicated to the Madonna del Lauro. There is in fact, a wooden statue of the Virgin inside.
In the patron chapel belonging to the De Martino family, it is possible to admire a statue of San Pietro, from the second half of the 16th century and a sculpture depicting the dead Christ, from the 19th century.
In addition to the two just described, there are three other chapels, one of these dedicated to the Madonna del Rosario.
It is also possible to admire numerous pieces of art; among the most significant there are the statues of the Guardian Angel and San Michele, dating back to 1640.
Inside the sacristy, moreover, it is possible to see frescoes depicting the triumph of faith, a work by Costantino Desiderio dated 1783, and a painting by Luca Giordano. The Giordano’s work illustrates the expulsion of merchants from the temple of Jerusalem. Last but not least, you will find inlaid wooden closet dating back to 1765, a work by Nocera craftsmen.
Basilica of Santa Maria del Lauro: History
Myth and legend surround the Basilica of Santa Maria del Lauro. Her history dates back to the Byzantine period. It is the same period attributed to the Madonna’ statue, between the end of the VIII and the beginning of the IX century. In that period, the geographical area of Sorrento was under the emperor of Byzantium. At the time, the population of Meta had an excellent merchant marine and plied Eastern and Palestinian ports. Thus, it seems normal to find Byzantine artworks in this area.
According to the tradition, the Basilica was built where a pagan temple stood. The temple was dedicated to the god Apollo, the purifier, to whom laurel was sacred. Here, where before there were only woods, it grew a laurel tree (so-called “lauro”): legend says a deaf-dumb old woman while grazing her cow, saw a tongue of fire burning near the laurel tree.
Intrigued, she approached and found the Byzantine-style statue of the Madonna at the foot of the plant. At that time, in fact, due to the iconoclastic struggles carried out by the Byzantine Emperor against sacred images, it was not unusual to find abandoned or hidden religious copies to avoid their destruction imposed by the emperor. On the origin of the statue, historically it is either possible that it was made in the East and brought here by sailors, or it was sculpted by a local artist.
Following the discovery, the old woman miraculously regained her sight and hearing and the whole village cried out to the miracle. Given the turmoil caused by the extraordinary nature of the event, the Bishop of Sorrento from back then had the statue transported to his Cathedral, but the next morning, miraculously, it was found again under the laurel tree in Meta. Since the miracle happened over and over again, in the end, the statue was definitively left in Meta and venerated as “Madonna del Lauro”.
Between the ninth and tenth centuries, the population was encouraged to build a larger temple that could host the growing number of faithful who came to worship it. Over the years, the history of the Basilica of S. Maria del Lauro has been very troubled because of the several devastations and spoliations, after which the locals rebuilt and enriched it each time. In 1782, it was even necessary to re-consecrate it, after too many reconstructions! In 1914, it was elevated to Pontifical Basilica and it was diocesan Jubilee seat for the Holy Year of 2000.
An interesting detail is Cappellone (the dome) of San Pietro which treasures maritime votive offerings dated between the 17th and 20th centuries. In any case, going to the church is a must for visitors to better understand the historical identity of this place.