Friday, March 20, 2009

Santuario di Santa Maria delle Grazie

Buona Giornata, ai miei amici!
Please see the video at the end of the post. Grazie!
It never fails. Once you pack up your scarves and hats for the season you get a blast of winter again. That's exactly what I did and what's happening today. It snowed overnight and although we can't see anything here I saw some cars coming down from the montain this morning with a fair amount of snow on them. And of course the mountains in the distance confirm this.
I've been on a popover kick since I tried a recipe I found in last week's New York Times Magazine written by Amanda Hesser. This seemed to be a cinnamon sugar popover morning with all the fierce winds and snow blowing down from the mountain. Sometimes you can't tell if it's real snow or the snow from the mountains. These popovers are great and, sorry to say, addicting. They're in the "betcha can't eat just one" category.
So if there's a little snow whooshing around down here you can be sure up at the Santuario di Santa Maria delle Grazie you can leave footprints. Unfortunately, we don't have a Madonna's footprints as we did at Santa Maria del Sasso, but nevertheless the Madonna has shown up here too.
This pretty little country church sits high above the main road. You can tell just how far you've gone up by the temperature change. The road going up is unpaved and One Way so it does present some challenges coming and going. Someone is expected to be nice about it and I don't know how gli italiani interpret the protocol of who does the backing up so it's good to keep your eyes trained at a distance. But there is a rule and that is that the driver closest to the wall pulls over or backs up, in this case the latter because the road isn't much wider than a bathtub. Piero took me here on my first summer visit in 2003 and I was enchanted with the whole property. The second time P took Marybeth and I up there so she could see it. When we got there we were right in front of a funeral procession. No turning back now. When we saw that old hearse huffing and puffing up the hill and the 20 cars behind it we knew we were in for the long haul. We were parked in but good. P wasn't happy, Marybeth was along for the ride and I was in absolute, unadulterated HEAVEN. I come from four generations of undertakers, funeral directors, morticians..whatever's the most comfortable title, and I was ready for the show. And what a show it was. The banners, the procession, the country pallbearers dressed in their best camouflage,the ancient silver Mercedes chug- a- lug hearse stalling at the very top of the hill in front of the church, the mourners sniffing with tissue packets ready, the heave ho handling of the casket into the church. I flinched and winced...the poor deceased. It was great! We were there for every Pater Noster and Ave Maria and Requiem in Pace there was. Then it was over and the cars started down the hill. We were free.
Here's the story of Santa Maria delle Grazie.
In 1428 a young country girl named Giovanna took advantage of the nice spring weather and left her house to do some work in the field. There was a flash rainstorm and she couldn't get back to her house but found shelter in a cave covered in branches whose entrance was marked with a white rock. As soon as she got into the cave she started to pray. All of a sudden there was a light of exceptional splendor and there appeared before her the celestial figure of a woman of extraordinary beauty standing with her foot on the white rock. Giovanna knew in her heart that this was the Mother of God. The Lady spoke to her in a motherly way telling her that if the people wanted to be relieved of sufferings and punishments and misfortune, that a church should be built here, in this same spot. And here,the people will give homage and veneration and constant prayer. Giovanna continued to be surrounded with this splendid aura when a shepherd, Piero Campodonico, approached and witnessed the event and understood it's significance.
Giovanna told her story to the Rector Luca of Stia and he, knowing the goodness and simplicity of Giovanna, believed her without question.The local parishoners quickly made a procession to the spot and a religious reawakening spread through the whole Casentino Valley and as far as Arezzo, Florence, and Sienna.
And so the church was finished in 1432. In 1474 a sudden fire totally destroyed the building and everything inside. Reconstruction was started immediately with funds offered by the faithful and the church of Santa Maria di Nuova di Firenze.
The reconstruction was completed in 1490 and this is what we see today. A simple church of elegant Florentine architecture with a single nave. The sanctuary was called Santa Maria delle Grazie...Saint Mary of the Graces. Every May 20 the people in the nearby villages make a procession to celebrate the apparition.
There are some beautiful works from the Della Robbia school (Andrea della Robbia 1435-1528) in the church. The apparition of The Madonna to Blessed Giovanna at the Nativity, the lunette of the Annunciation, and the "tondi" of the Evangelists, the little rounds encircling the arches. Above the sacristy door there is a fresco that Bernard Berenson attributed to Ghirlandaio (1452-1525). And just to give you some historical perspective, Michelangelo was a student in Ghirlandaio's workshop.
It was a Sunday that I took these pictures in the church. There was a Mass scheduled for 4:00 and there were a few people in the church saying the Rosary before Mass.I was a little concerned about my presence with the camera but I hoped that they understood that I was a "turista". Today, I could go back there and do the whole thing over again. These small country churches are bursting with treasures. You take a seat in a pew, in the soft candlelight of the church, and just let yourself wonder.


  1. Marti .. I loved this video and the story behind it .. such a gorgeous little church.. so rich in history the pictures tell the story & the music is perfect ! thank you !

  2. Beautiful! Thanks for the back-story.