Saturday, March 23, 2019

The Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary in Fontanellato, Italy

Our Ambrosian writer Nicola de’ Grandi recently visited one of the major pilgrimage shrines of the Emilia-Romagna region, Our Lady of the Rosary at Fontanellato, about 11 miles north-west of Parma. The church was founded at the beginning of the 16th century, and became particularly famous after a plague in the region in 1630, which hit the town itself very lightly. Surprising at it may seem, this monumental Baroque façade is very new, constructed between 1913 and 1920.

The Blessed Andrea Ferrari, archbishop of Milan from 1894 to 1921, was brought to the shrine as a child by his mother, and miraculously healed of a serious illness. He maintained a special devotion to the Madonna of Fontanellato all his life, coming each year as a pilgrim; he celebrated his first Mass at the church’s main altar in 1873, and 25 years later, as archbishop, his silver jubilee of priestly ordination. This statue was erected to commemorate him in 1925.
I normally start these kinds of posts with the high altar, and work my way through the main body of the church and the side altars. In this case, however, the most impressive decorative features is this collection of altar frontals, made with a technique called “scagliola” in Italian, a composite of selenite, glue and natural pigments that imitates the appearance of inlaid marbles. (The Emilia-Romagna is poorly supplied with marble, and has come up with quite a few clever ways to decorate churches very beautifully, at considerably less expense than it would have taken to import marble from abroad.)
The main altar
The miraculous statue of Our Lady of the Rosary
Altar of St Joseph; note the spiral columns imitated from those of the high altar of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Altar of the Crucifix
Altar of the Circumcision
The church has been run by the Dominicans since its foundation, with some rude interruptions; the Order was expelled for six years under the Bourbon Duchy of Parma, for eleven in the Napoleonic era, and eleven more in the early years of the Kingdom of Italy. Several of the side altars are dedicated to Dominican Saints.

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