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A Madonnina Twice Rescued
at Lucrezia di Cartoceto


[image ALT: A relief carving of the head and shoulders of a mother and her baby. It is a detail of a depiction of the Madonna and Child on a roadside shrine, or madonnina, in Lucrezia, Marche (central Italy).]

The town of Lucrezia, at 4750 inhabitants, is ten times more populous than the seat of its comune and accounts for three-quarters of the comune's population: a sure sign that it grew very fast in the twentieth century, and sure enough, almost all its houses are modern.

This growth must surely have been in large part due to its location on the Via Flaminia, or to be more precise, the modern SS3 highway by that name which succeeded the ancient Roman road. As someone who's walked the last 101 km of that road from well within Umbria to the coast at Fano just 10 km from here, I can assure you there's a lot of traffic, including the big semis that ply the world's commerce: not so surprising then that I should have found on the road the little modern shrine you see here, not quaintly set at some rural crossroads, but in front of a prosperous and equally modern house with its conveniences, its patio, its garden.


[image ALT: zzz. It is a roadside shrine, or madonnina, in the hamlet of Lucrezia, Marche (central Italy).]

This elegant Madonna, on the other hand, with its long-eroded polychromy, is beginning to look a little less modern; and the stone below her clinches the date:


[image ALT: A stone inscription on a roadside shrine, or madonnina, in the hamlet of Lucrezia, Marche (central Italy). The text of it is transcribed, translated and commented on this webpage.]

The beautifully carved inscription — that were it not for the date and a certain spideriness of the letters, could be absent-mindedly attributed by most any epigrapher to ancient Rome and the 1c A.D. — reads:

IANEN SACELLVM HOC AB
VLIISSE GENITORE SVO
CONSTRVCTVM · AC
VETVSTE COLLAPSVM
PIETATIS · ERCO · AFVNDATIS
RESTITVIT · AN SAL MDCXI

Ianen (?) Sacellum hoc ab
Ulysse genitore suo
constructum ac
vetuste collapsum
pietatis ergo (?) a fundamentis
restituit anno salutis MDCXI.

This shrine, built by his father (or possibly ancestor) Ulisse, had fallen due to age; out of filial devotion and piety he (Ianen?) restored it from the foundations, in the year of our salvation 1611.

IANEN has resisted all my attempts at decipherment. That mysterious ERCO, however, is pretty certain: you can inspect it in its own close‑up. If you have suggestions better than the above, please let me know of them!

As for how this 400‑year‑old Madonna came to have such a recent "body", I regret to say that when I was in front of her, I didn't think to stop and ask around; so I can only guess. If the shrine survived until the mid‑20c, then all of a sudden had no wall to support it, what could have happened? My suspicions were confirmed when I later read that indeed, this is World War II damage: the Germans, retreating up the Italian peninsula in 1944, did as they did in so many other places, and wantonly destroyed whatever their rage decreed: what was done to the fountain of Pesaro in this same province, they did to the houses of Lucrezia. The entire ancient fabric of the town was destroyed. Our Madonna and Child are survivors; modern piety, completely anonymous without even the vainglory of an inscription, preserved them for the second time.

For another take on the setting of this old monument, now on a very busy highway, you may compare this madonnina with the little church of the Guardian Angel at Calcinelli, just 3 km up the road.


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Page updated: 27 Mar 08