Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
mail: Bill Thayer 
[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

Refuge of Sinners
The Madonna del Sagraeto

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum!
Benedicta tu in mulieribus,
et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus.

[image ALT: A stone statue of a heavily draped woman, standing, approximately life-sized, beneath an elaborate metal canopy or baldacchino surmounted by a small cross. She stands on a low parapet or balustrade along an asphalted path or road; further back on the same balustrade, two smaller statues of the same type can be seen, but without canopy. It is a wayside shrine in Chioggia, Veneto (central Italy), described and commented on in detail on this webpage.]

Not every wayside shrine in Italy is out in the countryside, nor do they all conform to one of the typical schemes — a little pillar-shaped structure, roofed and niched; or a tiled plaque or niche on a wall — with which you've become very familiar if you've navigated my site before. Here in the busy Adriatic fishing port of Chioggia at the south end of the Venetian lagoon, we have a life-size baroque statue serving as the centerpiece of an elegant balustrade along a busy canal; only a continued tradition of three hundred years of devotion differentiate it from an ordinary statue in any city park: but it's enough.

[image ALT: A weathered stone statue of the Virgin Mary, standing, holding the Baby Jesus who stands on a billowing drapery of her robe. It is the shrine of the Madonna del Sagraeto in Chioggia, Veneto (northeastern Italy), described and commented on in detail on this webpage.]

The statue, pleasing if not an extraordinary work of art, is by Alvise Tagliapietra (1670‑1747), who left many other statues in Chioggia as well as in his native Venice and in neighboring Croatia. Carved of imported Istrian marble since there's not much stone in this alluvial region, it is typical of his work: a life-sized female figure marked by a slightly exaggerated contrapposto — that curious stance in which most of the body's weight is on one foot, producing a sort of sway of the corresponding hip. Here the contrapposto is masked by the Virgin's robe, but the effect is still not altogether successful: the Baby Jesus has been left to stand on billowing drapery otherwise unsupported.

The balustrade and its smaller statues date to 1714, during Chioggia's second great period of prosperity; they originally stood in front of the town hall, but that building burned to the ground in 1817, leaving only the balustrade intact, which was then moved here, to the edge of the Canale Perottolo.

The Perottolo canal was the border of the old town of Chioggia as you walk in from the mainland: Virgin Mother and Child thus protect the town although they face in, not out; more of an ever-present reminder that the world beyond the city is not a safe place, as fishermen on the mercurial Adriatic well know. For a century or so, however, this canal had been reduced to a cul-de‑sac, a sort of marina — call it a parking lot for boats, although it was beautiful; or at least, as a visitor, I found it so — but local poet Angelo Padoan speaks for Chioggia:

Me varde la Madòna soridente,

de no la fa do volte co la testa

mostrandome col deo qualcosa arente,

co la so bela facia mesta mesta . . .

"Ma varda drio de mi! No gh'è pi gnente!

pi barche, pi 'na vela, un sandoleto

e pi nessun che m'ebia in te la mente!

Uno stagno d'acqua sporca, un canaleto,

do case, tre palassi . . . Che disastro!

Our Lady smiled and looked at me

and shook her head twice,

pointing out to me with her finger something nearby,

and her beautiful face was sad, so sad:

"But look behind me! There's nothing there any more!

no more boats, not a sail, not a scull:

and not a one thinks of me any more!

A swamp of dirty water, a scruffy little canal,

two houses, three buildings . . . What a mess!

(My translation)

[image ALT: A close‑up view of the head of a weathered stone statue of a veiled woman — the Virgin Mary. Suspended over her head, a metal crown. Behind her, of the same type of metal, two coats of arms in elaborately twisted baroque settings, one on either side. Above it all, a canopy, also of the same metal. It is the shrine of the Madonna del Sagraeto in Chioggia, Veneto (northeastern Italy), described and commented on in detail on this webpage.]

[image ALT: A view of a small canal flowing from the left foreground into the background. It is bordered by plastered buildings three to five stories tall on the viewer's left; on the right, a marble balustrade with a tall statue of a robed woman, surmounted by a metal canopy or baldacchino topped with a cross. It is the shrine of the Madonna del Sagraeto in Chioggia, Veneto (northeastern Italy), described and commented on in detail on this webpage.]

Photo © Laura Sambo 2012,
by kind permission.

The corrosion of both stone and metal, especially noticeable in the circular strip of iron in the ceiling of the canopy at the very top of the photo above, remind us that we're a few yards from a body of salt water; but since my stay in Chioggia, the canal has been extended again into the thruway it originally was, and the balustrade and all its statues, including the Madonna, have been restored: in the recent view on the right, the canal is new, as are the stone steps and some of the balustrade.

Mother and Child are crowned; behind them the golden baldacchino sports the coats of arms of Chioggia to their right — three paws of its lion rampant is enough to identify it — and of the Counts Donà dalle Rose to their left: argent two fesses gules, in chief three roses of the second. I've been unable to discover why this particular coat of arms, which is not that of the bishop at the time; a good working hypothesis is that they are those of the family who commissioned the shrine, but I just don't know.

[image ALT: An escutcheon of a lion rampant; explained in the text of the webpage.]
[image ALT: An escutcheon of two wide horizontal stripes surmounted by three stylized roses; explained in the text of the webpage.]

The arms of Chioggia today
(facing the more heraldically correct way)

and those of the
Counts Donà dalle Rose.

Argent, a lion rampant gules.

Argent, two fesses gules, in chief three roses of the second.

The custom soon grew that those condemned to die, on their way to execution beyond the bounds of the city, would stop here to pray; and more recently, the statue became a place where the wives and family members of fishermen in peril on the sea would go to pray: churches are not always open. Popular piety soon called this statue Refugium Peccatorum, the Refuge of Sinners: a title given to the Virgin in the Litany of Loreto, and extending its range to include the entire human race, of course: Mother and Child protect us all, wherever we may be.

Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus,
nunc et in hora mortis nostrae!

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 2 Dec 17