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Immaculate Conception and Assumption:
Santuario della Madonna di Canoscio

[image ALT: The façade of a two‑story church of plastered stone, surmounted by a pediment. The ground story, much wider than the upper story, consists largely of a columned portico. It is a view of the shrine of the Madonna in Canoscio, Umbria (central Italy).]

The neoclassical façade of the Sanctuary of the Virgin at Canoscio. The inscription reads:

Virgini Immaculatae in coelum assumptae

To the Immaculate Virgin, assumed into heaven

[image ALT: An inscription chiseled in stone in a frame of stone of a different kind. It is a detail of the portico of the Santuario della Madonna in Canoscio, Umbria (central Italy); the inscription is given further down on this page.]
[image ALT: An inscription chiseled in stone in a frame of stone of a different kind. It is a detail of the portico of the Santuario della Madonna in Canoscio, Umbria (central Italy); the inscription is given further down on this page.]

In the porch, a set of small plaques list the first donors to the building of the sanctuary: aggregate amounts in scudi, by town or association. In the view of the façade, we can see five of them at the base of the wall between the columns; these are the first two. The places are all in the immediate area.

Il XV Agosto MDCCCLVI da Castiglion Fiorentino con processione solenne di devoti venne la prima offerta di scudi 50 e su questo esempio si molteplicarono i doni come ne fanno fede le seguenti lapidi

On August 15, 1856 from Castiglion Fiorentino with a solemn procession of the faithful came the first offering of 50 scudi, and after this example the gifts were multiplied as is attested by the plaques that follow.


Croce di Castiglione 8
Trestina 14
Castiglion Fiorentino 47
Val di Petrina 12
Artisti tifernati 70
Canoscio 45
Croce di Castiglione 16
Falerno 20
Orfanelle tifernati 30
S. Leo Bastia 30

This dry enumeration of money on the façade of the church, something that at first sight is not so edifying, expresses a real popular fervor: as papal overlord­ship of central Italy crumbled away in the 1850's and 1860's, the faithful, and often the faithful poor — Croce di Castiglione, mentioned twice among the very first donations, is a very small place, and those orphan girls can't have been very rich — made their way in processions to a bare hill to give their hard-earned money to priests who would build this church, a testament to their piety. The Immaculate Conception had just become Catholic dogma in 1854; the Assumption of the Virgin, on the feast day of which that first procession left Castiglion Fiorentino some 35 km W of Canoscio, would become dogma only in 1950, although already part of Catholic life for several centuries.

While a cynic might view these events, and even the mid‑19c doctrines themselves, as public relations managed by the papacy to obstruct the birth of a modern and resolutely secular Italian state, nothing is ever that simple; and in Italy, there's always several more layers of history, and the devotion is real.

For the origins of the sanctuary at Canoscio we have to go back to 1348, when a man by the name of Vanne di Jacopo from nearby Città di Castello, spared by the plague, had some kind of small shrine built on the top of the hill of Canoscio with an image of the Mother and Child, of the type known as a Maestà; miracles of healing soon brought the faithful to this place. That first shrine must have been very small indeed, very likely no more than the typical Umbrian madonnina (as in this example of roughly the same period, about 12 km from Canoscio); the chapel as expanded in 1406 measured only 5 by 8 meters, with added frescoes: a Dormition, an Assumption, a Coronation of the Virgin.

[image ALT: A long vaulted church nave with arched side aisles; at the end of the nave, an altar under a carved baldaquin. It is a view of the interior of the Santuario della Madonna in Canoscio, Umbria (central Italy).]

The chapel of 1406 and its frescoes are under the baldacchino behind the main altar.

Overall, the sanctuary at Canoscio, whose architect was Emilio de Fabris later chosen to construct a neo-Gothic façade for the Duomo of Florence, is no more than a middling product of its period: if the proportions are good and the general effect of the exterior is pleasant, the building is hardly original in its imitation of Renaissance and classical models, and the interior is sterile. Here and there, though, we have some beautiful details, as in this ceramic frieze in the portico; the blue pen gives the scale, at exactly 14 cm long.

[image ALT: A band of ceramic blocks richly sculpted with grapes and ears of wheat. It is a detail of a ceramic frieze in the Santuario della Madonna in Canoscio, Umbria (central Italy).]

The press of the faithful continued over the centuries and in 1854 a local priest, Luigi Piccardini, of the order of St. Philip Neri (the motto of which, loosely, is "Anything, but get the people to pray"), decided to promote a large church capable of accommodating them. On the feast of the Assumption, 1856 the first processions; on the eve of the Immaculate Conception, 1878 the building was dedicated by a cardinal specially sent by Pope Leo XIII, who before his election to the pontificate, had been following the progress of the work in his capacity as bishop of Perugia.

(The student looking for a less condensed and informal account can read it on a large if already slightly damaged inscription under the portico, visible above between the third and fourth columns: photos 1 and 2.)

[image ALT: A small semi-formal garden over­looking a valley, with distant mountains in the background. It is a view from in front of the Santuario della Madonna in Canoscio, Umbria (central Italy).]

The view from the church steps. Looking south over the Tiber valley (the river itself is just offscreen left) we have a glimpse of some of Trestina, the small town at the foot of the hill.

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Page updated: 4 Jun 12