We will start with what are known facts. In 1514 Bishop Gian Luigi Deluige visited St Mary’s of Moiano, he found the church and Her statue in a state of abandonment and in ruins. A devastating earthquake around the year 1456 may have caused some of the destruction. He noted its condition and apparently did nothing. Later, Bishop Giovanni Ghevara on March 20, 1525 conducted a census of the Moiano parish. He found that there would be a scarcity of donations to maintain expenses for St Mary’s even if the church and statue were restored. He then decided to combine St Mary’s with the parish of St Pietro.
Many Moiano citizens and those of the surrounding area protested.Because of the many miracles attributed to Her, and in the name of their ancestors, they wanted the church and statue restored. Donations of money, materials and labor came in from many, both in Moiano and surrounding areas. After 1550 the church and statue were restored. During this restoration they found buried around the statue were 9th and 10th century Byzantine coins. On the coins were inscriptions of Constantine the 7th and Virgin of Sign, a Greek icon that had been imported from the Orient. St Mary of Moiano was then restored to the likeness of Virgin of Sign.
Pope Innocenzo XII first venerated St Mary of Moiano in 1698. Due to years of efforts by parish priest Vincenzo Mango and some of the most influential citizens in Moiano, the church beatified Her in 1914. On June 27, 1991, there was an article in the newspaper L’Osservatore Romano regarding Her and restoration of Her statue.
We can be sure that for two or three centuries starting at about 1000 many pilgrims visited her shrine in Moiano, and there were miracles and cures. Nevertheless, it was often said that an individual had a feeling of serenity about them after the visit. We assume it was similar to the pilgrims who have been and are visiting Our Lady of Lourdes shrine in France for the past 150 years. We can also assume that during the Black Death in Italy starting in 1348, that pilgrims looking for cures, never made it to Mary’s shrine, and for this reason the memory of people who knew of Her shrine was extinguished. Even after almost two centuries of abandonment, those in Moiano remembered Her. Their extraordinary devotion to Her and Her miracles has not waned over the centuries. That same devotion came with their children to America.
The church speculates that at around 1571 there was trouble with the Turks who had invaded Italy. The Turks would not let the populace practice Catholicism in the areas they had occupied. In Moiano victory over the Turks was attributed to the many individuals who prayed to Our Lady of Moiano. Either for this or other reasons She was thereafter called Santa Maria della Libera (Virgin of Liberty.)
Why in the 1500s was Her statue restored in the likeness of the Virgin of Sign? Could it be that no painting of her facial features had survived, making it convenient to use that likeness when Her statue was restored? We now can be sure if there was an apparition it was probably in the later 10th or early 11th century, and this only because of the dated coins found during her restoration in 1550.
It is my opinion that during the Black Death in Europe; when more than one-third of the populace died, the critical history of Our Lady of Liberty died with them.
Iacopo and Francisco de Auropallo
(Magnifico) Carlo Antonio de Marco
Iiacopo de Laguardia
professor Graziadei Tripodi, in 1991 in Florence