The origins of the Sanctuary is a legend. During the iconoclast persecution of the eighth century, two Basilian monks were caught by soldiers with a panel depicting a Madonna, locked into a chest together with the painting and thrown into the sea. “If the image really works miracles, it will save you” said the soldiers. After 54 days the chest arrived to the shores of Messina and then to Gaeta. Here the picture was displayed for the devotee but soon disappeared and was found on the Mount Civita near Itri by a deaf and dumb shepherd, who, after regaining his hearing and speech, informed the people of the village about the miraculous painting he had found on a holm oak.
So the painting was entrusted to the Benedictine Monks of San Giovanni in Figline, who displayed it in their Monastery on Mount Civita.
Actually the icon, certainly of Eastern origins and attributed to St. Luke because of the letters L.M.P. (Lucas Me Pinxit), was brought to Gaeta by Basilian Monks fleeing to the monasteries of the Lazio region.
The picture miraculously survived the bombings of World War II, as the rector of the Sanctuary, with the picture under his cloak. Went wondering around the Lepini mountains, until he managed to bring it back to Itri without being discovered by the Germans.
Now the Sanctuary, visited by Giovanni Paolo II in 1989, is attended every year by almost half a million pilgrims and, among them, many reach the site on foot.
A very important pilgrimage starts during the seven Saturdays preceding the celebration of the Madonna della Civita on July 21. It commemorates the miraculous end of the plague in Itri and the surrounding countries in 1527.
The Sanctuary also hosts a collection of ex-votos collected over the years and a museum of popular religious traditions.