Positano is known for it’s amazing beauty and ability to defy gravity with it’s buildings clinging to the Amalfi coast. The Positano church of Santa Maria Assunta and it’s cliff side backdrop vie for most picture perfect setting in the world.

Positano church

History of Positano Church Santa Maria Assunta

The famed dome roofed church of Positano  holds an intriguing history. Legend tells of a pirate ship sailing in nearby waters carrying plunder, including a Byzantine icon like painting of the Black Madonna, in 12th century AD.

When a violent storm hit, which would surely sink the ship taking it’s crew of Saracen pirates with it, legend tells of the painting of Mary crying out. ” Posa, posa” (lay me down). The boat then glided safely into the harbor.

Positano Harbor


The tale goes on to describe the pirates being so stricken with the wonder of the Black Madonna speaking that they became Christians. The locals of the area kept the painting and the town took the name Positano after the words (“posa, posa”) that were uttered from the artwork.


Black Madonna Church of Santa Maria Assunta Positano

The Black Madonna

The Positano church of Santa Maria Assunta originated as the abbey of Positano’s Benedictine monastery in the 12th century AD and became home of the Black Madonna. Sadly the Romanesque building along with the entire lower town was abandoned from weariness of dealing with violent plunderers within the same century.

Apparently the story of the Black Madonna can only scare pirates for so long.


Black Madonna-Church of Santa Maria Assunta Positano

The Black Madonna above the altar in the  Positano Church of Santa Maria Assanto

By the 18th century the all clear on pirate plundering was given and the church received a Baroque makeover complete with colorful majolica tiles on the dome.


Church of Santa Maria Assunta Positano

To the right of the altar, in a niche, hangs a rare 1599 painting by Fabrizio Santafed of Baby Jesus being circumcised. Not something one sees every day that is certain.  If you are an art lover apparently this is the finest historic painting in all of Positano.


Circumcision of Jesus 1599 Fabrizio Santafede

I am no art expert but my comment from a nursing perspective is no child I have seen was ever so cooperative for this procedure. Just saying.

The church also holds a magnificent, and exceedingly loud, pipe organ. During our time in the church it was being played and I am not exaggerating in that my hearing may have been permanently affected. I was expecting the Black Madonna to shush the organist at any given moment.

That the church was about to close for lunch hour may have been the cause for the extraordinary volume coming from the massive instrument. The organist apparently was starving and determined to clear the congregation immediately.


Pipe organ Church of Santa Maria Assunta Positano

Bell Tower of the Positano Church

Outside the bell tower dates from 1707. Above the door of the tower, and a tiny little door it is, sits a Romanesque relief scavenged from the original church. The scene of seven fish and a wolf mermaid were a reminder to worshipers in the church how integral the sea was to their livelihood.


The crypt of the church below is not open to tourists. Local legends tell of the Benedictine monks putting their dead brothers on the stone chairs of the crypt to decompose on the spot as a reminder of their own mortality. So much for resting in peace.


Church of Santa Maria Assunta Positano

I wonder what the Black Madonna thinks now as the thousands of tourists spill into her quiet little resting spot.