I think you’re not a proper town in Italy, unless you’ve experienced a miracle. And, Arezzo, my friends, is a proper town! Its most famous miracle is celebrated every February 15 during a holiday named La Festa della Madonna del Conforto, so, naturally, Lulu and I joined in today’s festivities.
The nexus is Arezzo’s duomo where hundreds of faithful climb the steps and line up for a glimpse of the miracle-worker enshrined inside the cathedral’s ornate chapel.
As Lulu and I ascend, we are almost step-in-step with the procession of white-cloaked clergy, including Arezzo’s long-time Bishop Gualtiero Bassetti, whom Pope Francis (or Papa Francesco as Lulu says) just appointed Cardinal last month.
Pretty impressive turnout!
However, even more special and personal for us, is when, as I prepare to snap a photo of Lulu in front of the duomo, Arezzo’s mayor, Giuseppe Fanfani, snuck up behind and surprised Lulu with a Dracula-like envelope of his coat!
He’s a kind friend, who has graciously cooked and served us an amazing dinner at his home with his family, Zio Beppe (again, as Lulu says) takes a real shine to Lulu – and vice-versa.
But, as I mentioned, the main attraction lies inside the church, so inside we go. The queue is a long-one and luckily Lulu has her sticker book which keeps her happily occupied.
Finally, we near the flower-bedazzled chapel and there it is: a small glazed clay plaque with the likeness of Madonna, (Mamma di Gesu, as Lulu says) painted on it. This is what all the fuss is about.
The terracotta tile is Arezzo’s sacred protector, the Madonna del Conforto, or Madonna of Comfort.
The story goes that back in February 15, 1796, that plaque was just hanging out in some basement (directly above a stove that covered it in smoky grime) when a series of earthquakes threatened to damage the city. A few people huddled in that very basement and began to pray. Then, the legend has it that the Madonna plaque suddenly began to glow brightly through its blanket of soot and those dangerous tremors ceased!
The plaque received a cleaning, polishing and place of honor in its prestigious current location, where today it seemed to glow again. The two times I quickly tried to snap a photo, I could never capture the famous face.
As we pass by the plaque’s flowerful shrine, Lulu and I are sprinkled with holy water by the plaque’s presiding priest and we are each handed a little tract.
“Okay, we did it,” Lulu says after dutifully crossing herself and exiting the cathedral. “Now can we go get some candy?”
“Sure, let’s go,” I reply.
Surrounding the base of Arezzo’s duomo are a ring of concession trailers selling an assortment of chocolates, nuts and Lulu’s favorites: gummies.
“Yummy! I like the Madonna festa a lot!” Lulu exclaims holding her paper bag of chosen treats.
“But do you really believe that the little plaque glowed and stopped the earthquakes?” I ask.
“It wasn’t the plaque, Mama, it was God,” Lulu sums up what I had apparently missed.
Because, more than the candies or the Cardinal, it’s that that brings the people here today to celebrate.
Til next time, Gina
P.S. Got a miracle to share? Made a pilgrimage? Visited an inspirational shrine? Let us know!
Copyright 2014 Gina London. All Rights Reserved.