The church we were seeking was not just any church. Tony’s father, grandparents, and several aunts and uncles had emigrated from Montoro Inferiore decades ago. But when they still lived here, as for many of the other families in the town, the Chiesa Santa Maria del Carmine had been the Del Pozzo’s spiritual beacon. Over the years it has been the recipient of donations made by its departed Del Pozzo daughters and sons who left this area for better opportunities.
Growing up, Tony heard these and other stories about the relationship between his family and this left-behind place of worship. He still possesses an aging postcard his father had kept all these years depicting an enormous statue of Virgin Mary draped in a glittering gown and clutching a doll-like baby Jesus. A large golden crown atop her head, she towers over the main altar of the chiesa like the Queen of Heaven. A plaque just below her feet is engraved with the words: A devozione di Pietro Antonio Del Pozzo e Famiglia — 1957.
Tony’s great uncle, Pietro Antonio Del Pozzo, had donated the ornamented marble altar surrounding the saintly Madonna, as well as her gilded crown. In short, Pietro had been a devotional rock star, revered for his generosity and commemorated for it to this day.
Now, years later, members of this same Del Pozzo family were coming home, not only to see the town of their origins, but to reconnect a circle that had been broken so long ago.
The impeccably painted facade of the church belies its history. No one can pinpoint exactly when the church was erected, but its first written records date from 1511. Repeatedly damaged or destroyed by war or earthquakes over the centuries, it has been repaired and rebuilt numerous times.
The most recent disaster occurred in 1980 when a horrific earthquake hit the town, severely damaging the church, killing 20 townspeople, and destroying several other buildings.
The Terremoto dell’Irpinia (Irpinia Earthquake) did not affect just this town. The tremor, which registered 6.89 on the Richter Scale, struck on a Sunday night as thousands crowded into their local churches for evening mass. Overall, it killed 2,914, injured more than 10,000, and left 300,000 homeless. The towns in the Province of Avellino were the hardest hit. Montoro Inferiore is a part of that province.
But like I said, today you would never know the “Del Pozzo Church” had suffered such disasters. The architecture is in pristine shape. The outside is painted a pleasing pale yellow contrasted with gleaming white around the windows and doors. A small campanile (bell tower) reaches toward heaven at the side of the church. We couldn’t wait to go inside.