Most visitors know that Deruta, just south of Perugia, has been famous for its maiolica production since the mid-14th century. But few visitors know that the maiolica wonders are not just in the myriads of ceramic stores: over 700 maiolica folk-art treasures adorn the small church of Madonna dei Bagni, near Casalina outside Deruta.
The origins of this simple shrine are intertwined in history and a treasured local legend. In the early 17th-century, a Franciscan trekking the path between Deruta on the hill above and the Tiber below, spied in a tuft of grass a pot shard of a maiolica drinking cup bearing an image of the Madonna and Child, a leaf as the handle.
He picked up the small cup, tenderly hung it on the limb of an oak tree, murmured a prayer…and walked on. In 1657, a local merchant, Cristoforo, affixed the venerated image permanently to the tree to assure its preservation, praying to the Madonna to heal his gravely ill wife. Returning home, he found her up and sweeping their home.
Word of the miracle spread throughout the countryside and a chapel was built to enclose the oak tree with the maiolica cup of the Madonna and Child hanging on a branch. Madonna dei Bagni was consecrated in 1687.
Miracles have continued over the centuries; their stories are depicted on an astounding collection of maiolica follk-art tiles, commissioned by grateful succored who commissioned a local artist to recount their miracles.
On each tile, an image of the pot shard Madonna hanging on the oak tree is in the upper left- hand corner and PGR (“Per grazia ricevuta” or “Thanks for a grace received”), too, is on each tile.
As might be imagined, many of the delightful naif images – dating from the 17th century – depict events associated with life on the land: countless images of farmers falling out of trees while pruning, horses or oxen kicking an owner and many simply show a praying family near an oxen, sign that a beloved beast was ill and then healed.
The maiolica ex-votos (“ex-voto”, “out of a vow” or “for a vow”) of Madonna dei Bagni are still being commissioned as thanks for favors received from the Madonna. Modern tiles depict car and motorcycle accidents, soldiers returned from the wars:
Others depict thanks for a healthy pregnancy or thanks for the birth of healthy babies….or gratitude for successful surgery of some sort:
A lovely one depicts all of Deruta grateful to the Madonna for having spared Deruta damage in the earthquake of 1943:
But my favorite of all? An exorcism of 1678:
On your next jaunt to the Deruta area, stop in at this captivating folk art shrine and decide on your own preferred ex-voto. ….…and there will probably be new ex-voto tiles….
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