Today, when walking down the concrete stairway leading to the beach, you’ll be struck by the incredible views of the sea. But what’s waiting at the end of this trail is even more incredible.
The Chiesetta di Piedigrotta awaits you, its dark air tinged with a with salty and humid scent. Light filtering in from above cascades down to sculptures covered in patches of moss. It’s an almost eerie atmosphere, one that beckons you to inquire about the unusual church’s origins.
Legend tells of a vessel caught in a violent storm during the 17th century. The captain and his crew did everything they could to steer it, but with no luck. All they could do was gather below deck and pray before a painting of the Virgin of Piedigrotta. The sailors promised that if she saved their lives, they would build a church in her honor. A few hours later, the ship sank, but the crew made it safely to a beach near Pizzo.
Next to them was a bell and the painting of the Virgin they had prayed to, which they interpreted as a sign they had to keep their promise. They placed the painting in a small cave dug into the tufa.
In the 19th century, Angelo Barone, a local shopkeeper, devoted himself to the cave and built a larger church there. He carved stone figures representing Christ and the saints into the stones. He worked there all of his life, and when he died, his son took over. Then the statues remained at the mercy of time and vandals.
In the 1960s, Giorgio Barone, a descendant of Angelo Barone, visited the area. He was so struck by the then-deteriorated church that he decided to restore it. He also added new sculptures, including a bas-relief of Pope John XXIII in front of John Kennedy.
Know Before You Go
You can reach Pizzo Calabro by train, but you have to order a taxi in advance to get both to the town (a five-minute drive) and the church (a 10-minute drive from the train station). The easiest way to reach Pizzo Calabro and the Chiesetta di Piedigrotta is by car. Park in the lot marked "Parcheggio Piedigrotta" then walk down the concrete stairway until you reach the church. There's a small admission fee. The church is closed during poor weather. Check the hours on the official website since the place isn't always open, especially in the low season.