The history of the Sanctuary of Constantinople in Papasidero, Cosenza, is tied to the worship of an ancient icon created in the capital of the Byzantine Empire as far back as the 5th century: Mary “Odighitria” (Greek for “the one who offers guidance”), proclaimed patron saint of New Rome where, according to tradition, she had repeatedly appeared after she was assumed in Heaven.
The image is part of the iconography traditionally linked to Saint Luke the Evangelist, and became particularly popular in the 16th century in Southern Italy, after a terrible plague that scourged Naples in 1528.
According to Saverio Napolitano, it is possible that “the sanctuary dedicated to the Madonna of Constantinople was originally a small, bare, late-medieval church”, renovated after the epidemic.
“The 1656 outbreak halved the town’s population,” Napolitano explains, “and the small church was probably turned into a lazaret due to its position on the outskirts.”
“The hypothesis seems confirmed by a document that records how the medieval bridge leading to the original holy place was called ‘Rognosa’,” literally “mangy”, with clear reference to the plague as mange.
“The 1656 calamity also led the people of Papasidero to choose the Virgin of Constantinople as patron saint of their town, during a public assembly held on May 20th 1665 […]. After the Madonna was paid this homage, work began to expand the primitive building on the bank of the river Lao.”
“From 1679, the first Tuesday after the Pentecost was declared a holiday and the first noteworthy project on the church’s structure was carried out, which led to considerable elevation of the nave compared to the riverbed; additional reworks were completed towards the end of the 1700s and in the first part of the 1800s, creating the current three-nave structure” (translated from S. Napolitano, “La storia assente”, Rubbettino, Soveria Mannelli, 2003).