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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Madonna del Sangue -- The Sanctuary at Re

Sanctuario di Re -- The Sanctuary in Re

Today I'm going to tell you a story I like, about a church I like, in a town I like, and the miracle that happened there. Re is one of the small Piemonte mountain towns that you can stop and see if you take the Lago Maggiore Express train ride through the Italian and Swiss Alps. In fact, Re is the most easterly town in the Valle Vigezzo, and the last town where you can stop in Italy, being as it is located only 7 kilometers from the Swiss border. The sanctuary in Re has risen, over the centuries, around and above an ancient image of the Madonna breast-feeding her infant. This painting was frescoed on the outside wall of the ancient original church by an unknown artist sometime the 13th century. At that time the present sanctuary did not exist of course. What there was on the site was a small church dedicated to San Maurizio. But since the miraculous event, which took place there in 1494, the painting has been called "Madonna del Sangue," Madonna of the Blood. This story is about her and the beautiful sanctuary that has grown around her.

It was on the evening of April 29 of that year that one young Giovanni Zucono was playing with others outside the church. The game they were playing was called piodella; it was a game similar to baseball in that a short stick of wood was used to hit an object; in this case, the object was a metal disc, such as a coin, and the goal was to hit it as close as possible to a target. The story goes that this particular time Giovanni lost, and as so often happens with boys, he also lost his temper, and he flung his coin in the face of the Madonna on the wall. From the moment of impact, at the point where it hit, an outpouring of blood came from the wall, and the outpouring did not stop or subside for the twenty days that followed.

The fresco called Madonna del Sangue -- Madonna of the Blood

Immediately an altar was built in front of the image. Then, between 1606 and 1628 a church larger and more grand was built around the altar, incorporating the image inside. In 1894, on the 400th anniversary of the miracle, it was decided to build an even grander edifice. Work began in 1922 on the present byzantine-renaissance structure. In 1958 Pope Pius XII awarded the sanctuary with the designation of Basilica Minore.

The fresco is protected inside the sanctuary today. And in a tabernacle behind the altar an ampule of dried blood is preserved. Many scientific tests have been done on it, and the results well documented. And indeed, the residual marks on the fresco have been shown to be blood.

The sanctuary at Re is surprisingly large, and stunningly beautiful. Inside, it is unexpectedly modern, with contemporary stained-glass clerestory windows that reflect colored beams of light down onto the neutrally colored walls and the bright bolts of blue fabric which drape dramatically from the center of the dome, cascading down to the floor.


The center of the Sanctuary. Note that the prismatic effect on the walls and floor is from the light shining through the windows, and therefore constantly changing.

A closeup look at a trio of the long stained glass windows.

Each year, to commemorate the miracle of the Madonna del Sangue, a pilgrimage takes place, with the devout walking from Domodossola to the church. You can see it with much less effort, by disembarking the Lago Maggiore Express in Re, or driving up to the Valle Vigezzo, and stopping to visit for awhile.

Re is only one of the fascinating towns you can visit on the Lago Maggiore Express. Read more about that here, and if you have a free day to make this trip I wholeheartedly recommend it.
Top two photos: courtesy of Wikipedia.
Bottom two photos: stresasights


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