Glocal Eyes - Blog

Strolling through the city's historical center, one continuously encounters the multitude of artistic, historical and spiritual patrimony that seems to be at every street corner and piazza of Rome.

As a true Roman once suggested, you must not forget to look up at the beautiful details of windows and “piani nobili” but also at facades and porticos or else you might miss the beauty that lies overhead.
Many a time your eye will come into contact with one of the numerous Madonnelle or madonna paintings in the walls and corners upon buildings throughout the city.
These paintings or mini-altars in homage to the Blessed Virgin Mary with child, can be found in a vast array of sizes, shapes, forms and from almost every historical period.
They are defined usually by a frame of some kind, a shelf, a sacred image usually of Mary with Christ child, and a candle.
Some were made entirely of wood as well as plaster and metal.
One in particular, The Madonna Della Lampada al Tevere, located at the farther end of the ponte Fabricio bridge from the Tiber island, has an interesting story.
The fresco dates back to 1200 and the legend states that during the flood of 1557 the fresco remained intact and its candle remained lit even under water.
As a result of this miraculous preservation the actual fresco was brought to the Church of San Giovanni Calibita and a replica can be found in its stead at Ponte Fabricio.
In the period of unrest leading up to the Roman Republic (1798-1799), the Madonnelle were subjected to vandalism and attacked by the French troops as a message to the ruling pope and clergy who were inciting the people against the republic.
When the republic fell and the papacy returned once again to Rome, the Madonnelle retook their vigilant places and were put pack into place by reverent Romans who removed them during the invasions and Napoleonic unrest.
The majority of Madonnelle found today date between the 17-19th centuries.
Even the ancient Romans used to construct small public altars at intersections dedicated to pagan deities in order to protect streets and public spaces of the city, the so called lares compitales.
Similarly, the Madonnelle functioned not only as protectorates of those who passed but also served to illuminate the dark streets and alleyways, that up until the arrival of electricity, had a very useful public service.
These Madonnelle remind us of not only religious devotion but also of the artisanal craftsmanship and tradition rooted in social, political and urbanistic realities of Roman city life.