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"There is a very great famine . . ."
Madonna della Spella, the Interior of the Chapel


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In this photo, about 85% of the little sanctuary.

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The S wall: the remainder that was behind you in the previous photo.

The Madonna della Spella, on the road to the summit of Mount Subasio from the hamlet of Collepino in the comune of Spello, is a typical Umbrian votive chapel. Not exactly a church, it's a place where people have come for centuries to pray for specific graces, and leave their testimonials for graces received. The testimonials in these votive chapels most often take the form of an assortment of frescoes; where health is sought after disease or some horrible accident, the frescoes will frequently show the circumstances of the mishaps from which the votaries were delivered, and some chapels thus give us a very good feel for the diverse incidents of life in the countryside of the time.

Here, however, all the remaining wall-paintings are essentially identical, and achieve a sort of magical effect by their repetition: the same depiction of Virgin and Child, most of them, like the two you see immediately above, against a backdrop of embroidered cloth, characteristic of the school of Foligno in the late Middle Ages. The sample to the right, and in detail below, lacks the damasked background, but is the best preserved.


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The people of Collepino and Spello and the surrounding area have been coming to this chapel for hundreds of years, and still come now, to pray to the Madonna della Spella for rain and good harvests. Here first is an erudite version, as left to us by Taddeo Donnola, prior of the church of S. Lorenzo in Spello, on a stone plaque near the altar. In Latin and as replete as a quatrain can be with learned references, it's still not very good verse; in that sense, my translation matches it rather well. . . .


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DE
PMA VIRG. DEI GENIT. MARIA DE SPECVLA
MIRACVLIS CLARA
AD POPVLVM HISPELLATEM
THAD. DONNOLÆ S. LAVR. PRIORIS
TETRASTICHON

SI PLVVIAS HYADAS SIC MOX SI TESSALA TEMPE
SI CERERIS FRVGES QVAEQVE VEL AMPLA CVPIS
EX ANIMO HVC SCANDENS DIVAM VENERARE MARIAM
INDVBIE HYSPELLVM TVNC BONA CVNCTA MANENT

ILLMAE COMMUNITATIS PRIORES
SACRO ASCENSIONIS DNI DIE
PONEN. CVR.
MDCXLVIII.

Of the
Most Pious Virgin, the Mother of God, Mary of Spella
Famed for miracles —
To the people of Spello,
A Quatrain
by Thaddeus Donnola, prior of S. Lawrence:

If you desire the rains of the Hyades as of old at the Thessalian Tempe,

Or the fruits of Ceres, or yet again any other greater things soever —

Climb here and in your heart of hearts venerate our heavenly MARY.

Undoubtedly all good things shall stay with us in Spello.

The Priors of the Most Illustrious Community
Arranged to have this stone erected
on the holy day of the Ascension of our Lord
1648.

Scholars, however, are hardly the majority of those who climb here to pray. Surely more typical is this voice from over four hundred years ago.


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At the foot of the Virgin's robe, on the left side of this photo, not a tourist's graffiti, nor exactly a prayer; rather, just letting the Virgin know what the situation is. I hope she took care of it:

AÑO DÑI 1586
fa una grãdiss:a carestia

In the year of our Lord 1586
there is a very great famine


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Page updated: 23 Feb 03