Madonna dei Fornelli has an ancient history and its name refers to the ancient tradition of charcoal burning to face the area’s harsh winters at 800m above sea level. The charcoal was burned in the woods or in special furnaces that were also used to make lime from the stones and sent long plumes of smoke that rose skywards. The ancient village of Fornello, which probably had its own furnace, is a stone’s-throw from the shrine and is still visible. The current church dates back to the early 1900s and became a parish and shrine in 1960. But there was already a chapel there much earlier, probably at the turn of the 1600s, with a very unique dedication: Our Lady of the Snows. The name derived from an extraordinary event in this sacred place, a snowfall that occurred on 5 August sometime around 1610. This event was quite similar to an occurrence, centuries before, at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, and thus intensified the devotion to Our Lady so much that it became a point of reference for all the neighbouring communities. Later, around the time of the great plague
in 1630, as can be read in the inscriptions on the entrance architrave, the inhabitants elected the image of Mary as their protector as she had miraculously preserved them from the scourge. Following this grace received, all the neighbouring communities agreed to build a bigger, more dignified place of worship. Some centuries later Our Lady renewed her grace, during the terrible cholera epidemic that raged in the area in 1855. This divine intervention is also commemorated in an inscription in the church. The image of the Virgin and Child, a large oil on copper, and the same venerated in the early 1600s is now in the apse and dominates the high altar. In 1994 the construction was completed of the current bell tower, thirty-three metres high with an octagonal base. Two festivals linked
to the sanctuary: the Ascension, with a procession in Castel dell’Alpi in memory of the bond uniting the two communities, and 5 August, in memory of the miraculous snowfall that made Fornelli the village of Our Lady of the Snows.
Open daily: 9am–6pm