The Edicola: From Deities to Newspapers
In the Greco-Roman ancient world – and even in ancient Egypt – edicole flanked imposing city entrances or temples (or were located inside the temples), and held images of the divinita’ minori (“minor deities”); the major divinities merited the construction of entire temples.
From the Latin, aedicula, (diminutive of aedes, temple), an edicola was indeed a tempietto (mini-temple), often richly sculpted, incorporating a tympanum and often columns. Some edicole were carved right into the rock – limestone, sandstone or basalt – and others were constructed of individual sculpted pieces. Many were painted.
As Roman deities gave way to Christianity, edicole too adapted. As of the 12th-century, the edicola sacra or edicola votiva was synonymous with tabernacolo eucaristico (a small votive chapel, built following a voto, or vow). Edicole became niches inside churches or along country roads, on facades of homes, over church doorways or flanking medieval city gates.
Nowadays, some roadside edicole mark an accident, either as a memorial to a deceased or as an ex-voto thanks for a recovery. One near our house commemorates an escape from a highway robber of the late 19th-century!
Often, clutches of chatting elderly women, arms linked, head out Assisi’s medieval gate to bring bouquets to a countryside Madonnina (little Madonna). Here in the Assisi area, edicole most often bear an image of la Madonna, though many shrines honor St. Francis or St. Clare or both. No matter: the Umbri refer to any edicola as “una Madonnina.”
Assisi edicole images are frequently frescoed, sculpted or maiolica masterpieces, often adorned with votive candles or vases of fresh flowers.
The word “edicola” is now also used for newsstand kiosks, overflowing with newspapers, magazines, CD’s, phone cards, and even small toys. Many sell bus tickets as well. From Roman divinities to saints to the mass media, whether the enshrined objects are sacred or profane… the edicola remains.