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The Chapel of the Immaculate Conception at Pian Pistolla

[image ALT: A house-sized single-story plastered building with an applied pediment over its main door; on the right, in a lower part of the building with a sloping roof, a second identical door, and above it a small brick belfry of the type known as a 'campanile a vela', with a true pediment. It is the chapel of the Immaculate Conception at Pian Pistolla near Monteleone d'Orvieto in Umbria (central Italy).]

The chapel as I came upon it as I walked the SS71 regional road (offscreen right) out of Monte­leone di Orvieto to Città della Pieve. It marks the cross­road you see here, that winds west then south thru Perumpetto to San Carlo. We are looking northwest.

The little church we see above, a few hundred meters west of downtown Monte­leone, just past the town limits, in the rural area of Pian Pistolla (also Pianpistolla), is officially the Chiesina dell' Immaculata Concezione, but has long been known affectionately as the Chiesina della Madonnuccia. Affection yes — madonnuccia can translate as "young lady", "gentle lady", or "sweet Madonna" — but also information: in practice, the word is by far most often used today to refer to a wayside shrine of the Virgin Mary: not a church but a small free-standing niche with a statue or painting of her; and like many churches in Italy, including some that are now very large and imposing, this little chapel started out as just that kind of shrine, with no walls, no door, no belfry, and only the barest projecting roof to provide basic protection against the elements. Many madonnucce (also: madonnine) continue to be just that, like the 15c examples at Fonte di Poggiolo just outside Monte­falco and at Palazzo Rosa di Monte­corona near Umbertide. Here the image is a fairly generic 19c painting of the Virgin, standing on a globe against clouds, and crowned with stars; and the story goes that the chapel was built to protect it not from the elements but from bad-tempered human outbursts like that of the farmer angry with bad weather preventing him from harvesting his crops, who threw his sickle at it.

Not so long ago, every year on the Tuesday following Easter this little chapel celebrated a well-attended annual mass and picnic, a vibrant focal point of the rural life of the area; but when I saw the chapel in the spring of 2004, it had stood unused for a number of years.

On Easter Monday 2017, however (news article, Orvieto the Immacolata was solemnly reopened to the faithful by the parish priest of Monte­leone. The devotional image has been restored by local artist Carlo Sassetti, and the building was checked, fixed as needed, and given a fresh coat of paint — it is now a uniform beige a bit lighter than the pediment in my photo — and provided with a railed walkway to the front door and some ornamental shrubbery.

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Page updated: 22 Feb 24