In the Todi DNA, Santa Maria della Consolazione
Bordering a Todi hill side, Santa Maria della Consolazione rises like a veritable temple, “perhaps the most limpid of all classical architecture that has been built in Italy”:And like most temples, Santa Maria della Consolazione was constructed to house a venerated image.
According to legend, in the early 16th-century when a pair local stonemasons were demolishing a decrepit wall in this area, they found an edicola (small shrine) overgrown with brambles. The shrine housed an image of the Virgin and Child with Saint Catherine of Alexandria, called “Le Mistiche Nozze di Gesù con Santa Caterina di Alessandria,” for the Christ Child presents a ring to the Saint, in sign of a “mystical marriage.”
One of the stonemasons, perhaps Iole di Cecco, blind in one eye, reverently cleaned the image with his own fazzoletto (handkerchief). The mason then used his fazzoletto to clean his own face and eyes and astonishingly, regained his sight.
Word of the miracle spread rapidly and in June, 1508 the local bishop, mandated the building of a chapel to house the sacred image – which he wished called “Santa Maria della Consolazione” – with the hopes that the site would become the destination of pilgrimages, especially for the ill.
There was already a church on the site but the city of Todi decided on the building of a grandiose Renaissance church in order to affirm the city’s prestige – and power – to surrounding cities with medieval cathedrals.
The position of the church on the edge of town, just outside the 13th-century walls, was a point of prestige, visible from a distance:
Many art historians attribute the design of the building to the great architect, Donato Bramante……..although recent studies do not exclude a possible influence of Da Vinci on the structure’s design.
Art historian and Leonardo Da Vinici expert, Luca Garai, wrote, “The design is part of the studies of churches of Leonardo…and precedes the church’s construction by fifteen years…..when Leonardo was in Milan and friend of Bramante, sharing commissions with him…….Leonardo’s architectural activity is not limited to this but the Consolazione is the only architectural example still existing.”
Started in 1508, the church was finished in 1607.
More than ten architects participated in the construction, including many famous ones who have left their mark in other Umbrian hill towns (and not only): Cola da Caprarola (Foligno), Antonio Sangallo il Giovane (Gubbio, Spoleto), Ippolito Scalza (Orvieto), Vignola (Citta’ di Castello and Assisi,S. Maria degli Angeli), Galeazzo Alessi (Perugia, Assisi, Castiglione del Lago, Citta’ della Pieve).
With three polygonal apses and one semicircular one, the Tempio di Santa Maria della Consolazione was built on the Greek-cross plan: “a reminder of the harmony and unity of the universe….the union of humanity with the divine.” (Lorena Battistoni, Il Tempio di Santa Maria della Consolazione in Todi, 1508-1607).
There are three points of entry to the Tempio and we entered the splendid Baroque portale on the east side….
…where eagles, symbol of Todi, perched above both sides of the entrance:
Inside, the vast vaults – light filtering in through 46 windows – certainly do embody “the harmony and unity of the universe”::
To the right of the entrance, Pope Martin I – born in Todi in the late 6th-century – is depicted with hand upraised in blessing in a massive 17th-century wood sculpture.
He seems to be there to welcome visitors to the splendor:
The venerated image of Le Mistiche Nozze di Gesù con Santa Caterina di Alessandria is conserved in the north apse in an elaborate mid-17th-century Baroque altar of architect Carlo Rainaldi:
The cupola rises majestically in the center of the church, the Four Evangelists sculpted on the corners of the cupola vault:
St.Lukes writes his Gospel, with the book placed on the head of his symbol, the ox. Light streaming in through one of the windows illuminated St. John and his symbol, the eagle:
St. Matthew seems to be the most contemporary of the four, for he turns toward the angel (his symbol) whose hands placed on his shoulder seem to be counseling him as he writes. And the Saint’s finger is upraised almost as if to affirm, “I have it! I’ve understood.” St. Mark sits looking at his book – his Gospel – with his symbol, the lion, reclining near him:
In the apses surrounding the cupola, statues of the Twelve Apostles were placed in the early 18th-century – as you can see from this photo I was allowed to take from the presbytery, standing right in front the Rainaldi altar housing the treasured miraculous image:
Permission had been granted by tuderte custodian of the Tempio, Letizia – with whom I chatted for some time about the church as she re-arranged the flowers, the apostle John backdropping her:
We were alone together in the vast church but we both remained masked as I wandered and Letizia trimmed flower bouquets.
I asked her if I might photograph her and she agreed with a smile (I could tell from those eyes twinkling above her mask), saying quietly, “but the beauty in here is certainly not mine.”
She said those words with such pride that it was clear to me that she would agree fully with the words of Dr. Bruno Severi, Presidente of ETAB, (Ente Tuderte di Assisitenza e Beneficenza, i.e., “Todi Association for Assistance and Works of Charity”), today’s “cultural ancestor” of an early 16th-century opera pia (“pious work” or project) founded to assist the needy and sponsor the building of the Tempio di Santa Maria della Consolazione. Dr. Severi wrote, “our Consolazione has accompanied generations and generations of tuderti in many moments of our lives…entering into our very DNA and such is the reason for our attachment to this masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance.”
Read about Todi’s celebration of patron saint, San Fortunato
Read about Todi’s Parco di Beverly Pepper
Read about Beverly Pepper’s “gentle force”
Read here about Beverly Pepper’s “Todi Columns”