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Since Etruscan Times

The Madonna della Maestà, Ficulle


[image ALT: A small 2‑story brick and masonry church preceded by a three-arched portico. It is a three-quarters view of the church of the Madonna della Maestà in Ficulle, Umbria (central Italy).]

The Madonna della Maestà from the NE.

The Virgin Mary was not worshipped here in Etruscan times, of course; and in fact, if you're looking for mother goddesses, go away: nothing here.

Yet there is evidence that this place, about a kilometer south of the center of the little Umbrian town of Ficulle, has been in some way sacred for maybe 2500 years: although the church you see is a 17c building, one of the many Maestà that dot central Italy, usually built to shelter a miraculous painting of the Virgin, locals believe that some little caves very nearby were once an Etruscan burial-place. Now if thruout central Italy we see several places locally claimed as Etruscan which were not, there are also indubitable Etruscan remains in the area: I very much regret not having seen these grotte myself in my brief gallop thru Ficulle, and therefore have no opinion on them, except to throw out the possibility, with no evidence to back me up, that they might once have been used as a Mithraic spelaeum, which would thus account for the inscription to Mithra in S. Maria Vecchia.


[image ALT: A largish room, of which we see about half, including two arched bays, the nearer one of which has an altar in front of a large square painting. It is a view of the interior of the church of the Madonna della Maestà in Ficulle, Umbria (central Italy).]

Chapel of the Madonna della Maestà: this is most of the interior.


[image ALT: A large square painting of a woman, robed, crowned and seated on a cloud, holding a crowned baby; at her feet two kneeling men. It is a painting in the church of the Madonna della Maestà in Ficulle, Umbria (central Italy).]

The Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist and St. Francis.

What you see above is surely a 20c work, or something so retouched it might as well be; at any rate the interior of the church, while attractive, is disappointing to anyone expecting a painting of great antiquity, as we almost always see in chapels called Maestà: in 1980 the original Renaissance fresco was detached for preservation and restoration, and, to my knowledge, hasn't come back to the church. Very real, on the other hand, is the attachment and devotion of the Ficullesi to the Virgin, and that's worth any number of paintings, of course:


[image ALT: A vertical rectangular plaque with an inscription, in the church of the Madonna della Maestà in Ficulle, Umbria (central Italy). The inscription is given on this page.]

Sciogliendo pubblico voto
il popolo di Ficulle
a perenne ringraziamento
più decoroso ha voluto
il santuario della

Madonna della Maestà
che invocata con fede
nell' ora sanguigna
di una esacrabile guerra
imperversante furiosa
nelle sue ridenti contrade
preservò da temuta distruzione
le abbandonate case paesane

21 · II · 1947

In fulfilment of a public vow
the people of Ficulle
in perpetual thanks
wished to embellish
the sanctuary of the

Madonna della Maestà
who having been called on in faith
in the bloody hour
of a detestable war
raging furiously
in her graceful countryside
preserved from a feared destruction
the abandoned houses of the inhabitants.

2 · 21 · 1947


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Page updated: 4 Jul 05