The History


Interno Chiesa

The Venerable Congregation of the Servants of Mary is a lay confraternity whose members have chosen to live more fully as ordained by the Gospel. According to many historians, these pious institutions,  arose when the first Christian communities, even after the disintegration of the social structure, gave birth to religious associations - professional with its statutes, officers, their cash and their assemblies.  

Church authorities initially opposed, then tolerated and finally encouraged them. However, the period  of their origin is believed to be the Middle Ages, as in the tenth century we find they are everywhere:  France, Germany, Spain, England and Italy. 

The members of these pious institutions provide protection, defence, health and dignity of life. 

This association can be divided into three main groups: 

 • The Brotherhood of trade, to which  members of the same profession enrolled. 

 • The Brotherhood of devotion, depending on the clergy or religious orders. 

 • The Brotherhood of penitents, dedicated to concrete actions such as the fight against heresies, assistance and aid to the sick at the time of death, that is  the six works of Evangelical charity to which was added the burial of the dead.

Thank to the Council of Trent and activity of religious orders, in the sixteenth century the Brotherhood adapted to the need of the times, new forms of charity by undertaking  various social tasks such as visiting prisoners, the reception of pilgrims, support for the sick, care for orphans and widows, the burial of the poor, very often by exerting "a way of substituting the clergy and bishops, who were sometimes insensitive to new pastoral duties."

In fact, for the first time through these institutions, the laity had a general mobilization also  favoured by the granting of Privileges and the aggregation to  the Roman Archconfraternities which made the Brothers  fervent militants who practiced the new charitable, devotional and cultural commitments, as ordained by the  Roman Archconfraternities. 

If the beginning of the 1700s saw the highest point of their distribution both in  cities,  villages and small rural towns, in the second half of the century, there was a slow crisis, due in part to the new conception of the State that advocated in itself the task of promoting, directing and often suppressing the activities of the Brotherhood.

This was true especially in Italy with the policy of the new state of Savoy, which by  confiscating many goods, forced the Brotherhoods  to restrict their scope for action, thus losing the ability of  creating groups which distinguished them in  previous centuries. 

Nearly all the Brotherhoods of a charitable vein died out, leaving only those few who had a primary purpose of worship, and even these had to adapt to the wishes of the new legislators who imposed the revision of the Statutes and periodic monitoring by the prefectures until, with the new Concordat of 1929, the surviving Brotherhoods came under the direct control of bishops thus continuing to play more freely, though to a lesser degree, their apostolic, cultural and charitable work. 

The  Brotherhood of the Servants of Mary was founded in 1717 by the Priest of the Cathedral, Canon Francesco Anton Rocco, who later became Bishop of Capri, which would bring together the children of the City of Sorrento in an institution called "slaves or sons of Mary" to become accustomed to religious practices that would make them honest and inhibited.

Initially, the institution, which has always been called "the Congrazionella" by the people of Sorrento,  did not have a permanent residence, found accommodation in several churches, first in the church of  St. Catello, then in the Chapel of the family Vulcano in Largo  Castello and later in the Chapel St. John of the Donnorso family. 

Finally, Archbishop Filippo Anastasio gave these institutions the Chapel of St. Barnabas behind the Cathedral, which belonged to the Mastrogiudice family, Marquis of San Mango, consequently handed over to  the Archbishop as the Mastrogiudice family did not have direct heirs. 

The deed was signed in 1722, with the obligation to close the entrance door from the Cathedral and open  a new one in via Parsano (now called A. Sersale). 

The Brothers beautifully restored  the Chapel spending 210 ducats. 

For the occasion, the painter Nicola Malinconico painted the picture of the Assumption which was placed on the altar, and it is thanks  to the generous gift  of Mrs. Felice Simeoli the  beautiful wooden statue of the Virgin Mary, adorned with a beautiful dress woven entirely in silver with gold embroidery and trimmed with aquamarine stones, lapis lazuli, garnets, and pearls; the  only existing work in the diocese.

In January 1723, in his  Papal Bull, Pope Innocent XIII, recognized and enriched with many Privileges, the Congregation of the "Sons or Servants of Mary under the title of Our Lady of the  Assumption into Heaven." Very soon the small chapel was no longer big enough to accommodate the large number of members diligently participating, in all religious practices. 

Later Canon Joseph Corbo, Prefect of the Brotherhood, having noted the paucity of the Chapel thought to enlarge it by buying  the  properties and surrounding gardens with the sum of 15,000 ducats received from the Cardinal of Naples, the  Sorrentine  Antonino Sersale, who was one of the first "Sons of Mary."

On August 22nd, 1761 they started the work that was completed in just six years.

After many disagreements among the heirs of the Canon Corbo, who had since died, the Church was finally completed and was complemented by a beautiful altar in polychrome marble, flanked by the  carved Sersale coat of arms , mason work of the famous Neapolitan Antonio Troccoli. 

The Chapel was also adorned with lavish stucco work of the famous Neapolitan master Cesare Starace, and  beautiful terracotta floor tiles , which alternated between large spirals and scrolls, fancy potted flowers and fruit, the work of the renowned artist Ignazio Chiaiese. 

The Church was solemnly Blessed August 14, 1772.

Finally, in 1774, the Temple, was enriched with   the great altarpiece of the Assumption of Mary into heaven, a composition  by the Sorrentine artist Carlo Amalfi, a renowned painter of the Bourbon Court, and also  the magnificent 6 register organ by the  Neapolitan master Nicola Mancini . 

As a result of legal proceedings raised with the Corbo heirs,  the Church remained closed for three years, until it won all the cases. June 2nd  1778  the Regal order was passed to reopen the  "Congrazionella" and, amid the joy  of the Brotherhood, also came the royal decree that recognized both the foundation and it’s rules. 

Then, in 1786, the painter Carlo Amalfi completed the execution of ten other paintings that were placed along the walls of the Church.

The paintings that were located between the large windows and entrance doors depict the main phases of the life of the  Madonna, while the four paintings adorning the altar, represent the three Archangels and the Guardian Angel. 

With this work, the church was finally completed and it’s Brothers devoted themselves, with greater commitment to apostolic works and at the same time, in an act of generosity  supplied the new temple with all  furnishings, sacred vases and vestments. 

With the  suppression of religious orders decreed by the new Italian government with Law No. 3036 of July 7, 1866, the Brotherhood, so as not to break up a local artistic heritage, with great sacrifice bought two beautiful confessional boxes artistically carved in walnut from the State, as well as a pulpit (1 2 3 4 5)  carved with very fine panels which reproduce scenes from the Old Testament, the work of Jesuit Raffaele Russo and the panel depicting the Communion of St. Stanislaus by Lorenzo Giusto (1834), both coming from the Convent of St. Vincenzo Jesuit.

In the same period  the library of the suppressed Convent of St. Francesco, was bought from the State and consists of several volumes of religious topics, ranging from the 1500s to the1800s with interesting manuscripts from the 1400s. 

The Servants of Mary have always safeguarded the artistic and religious heritage of the city. In fact, every time an opportunity was presented to save some object or furniture of a certain value  they always found a way to keep it in the city. 

For example, in 1882, antique artistic furniture of the 1700s, belonging to the Pharmacy "Leone", was bought from the Stiffa heirs and  then transformed into a library. 

In the early decades of the kingdom of Italy, the Brotherhood was continually put to the test with the risk of being eliminated. 

If the Brotherhood dedicated themselves to charities as they had always done, they would have been  absorbed into the new constituted civilian agencies, (Congregation of Charity then ECA). 

If they did not do charitable work, they would have been accused of inefficiency and be considered useless, and therefore  dissolved . But to all these requests the Servants of Mary, even though small in number were always able to oppose themselves vanifying any threat of suppression

Today, the Servants of Mary, in line with the times, have taken new forms of apostolate implementing appropriate initiatives that will achieve a new and adequate religious formation and ministry, together with increased social and cultural commitment, but always in harmony with the ancient statutes and in line with the principles of the New Code of Canon Law.