In the hills near Livorno, you’ll find the famous Sanctuary of the Madonna delle Grazie, nestled atop Montenero. Its foundation is said to be linked to the discovery of an image of the Virgin Mary in 1345 by a poor and crippled shepherd: he decided to bring the painting to Montenero, also known as the “devil’s mountain” and once a secret hide out for bandits. The monks then decided to build a small church in honour of this image, which was considered miraculous. Due to the icon’s increasing popularity, a larger church soon replaced the original, and the building was further expanded in 1575, and again in 1720.
Interestingly, this is also the best place to learn about the ex-votive tradition in Tuscany. The Gallery of ex-voto at the sanctuary is home to one of the largest collections of votive offerings in Italy: about 600 pieces, collected since the early 1800s. This is not only a testimony of faith, but also a mirror of everyday life during different periods in history, detailing the changing customs, transportation methods, jobs, activities and points of view.