For reasons I simply cannot fathom, I'm feeling glum. I should be ecstatic -- I'm off to Italy in 3 weeks; I successfully bought a Eurostar ticket from the Trenitalia site to get from Rome (where I'll land) to Parma (my first stop); the sun is shining; we're well into spring; I still have all my own teeth.......
But there it is. I feel as if I need some sort of a miracle. So, I'm going to see if I can find one in Parma, where I'll begin my 2-week stay in Italy's Emilia-Romagna region.
Annie, whose Churches in Venice blog seeks out miracle-working Madonnas, has raised my awareness of this phenomena. So, my first stop in Parma must, I think, be in the Chiesa magistrale della Steccata -- the Church of St Mary of Steccata. It seems that it boasts not only some great art, but has been the site of two -- count 'em, two -- miracle-working images.
Steccata, or steccato, I believe, loosely translates as railing or fence, or possibly even shield and describes a structure that was put up centuries ago to keep pilgrims from clamouring all over a miracle-working fresco of Mary with the baby Jesus.
Legend, as told on the tourism.parma site, holds that the roots of the Steccata church are found in an initial apparition in 1392 of an image of John the Baptist that appeared on the wall of a house in Parma's via St. Barnaba (currently via Garibaldi) where the Renaissance-era church is found today.
A cult of this image sprang up and led first to the creation of an oratory there. Later, a congregation of lay followers and clergy began to manage the oratory.
Meanwhile, a neighbouring religious confraternity had an equally miraculous image of the Virgin nursing the infant Christ on the facade around which a much larger (and presumably, rowdy) cult following sprang up. This image now rests on the altar of the Steccata church, which it inspired.
So large was the cult following that a steccato, or railing, was put up to hold back pilgrims and protect the fresco. Eventually, the fresco of the miraculous Virgin was elevated to the altar.
The present church was constructed between 1521 and 1527, and was frescoed according to a precise marian iconographic plan that is apparently extremely difficult to decode. Interesting!
After I examine the miracle-working Madonna, I'll probably just look for paintings by Parmigianino, including a fresco cycle found in an arch above the presbytery. It depicts the parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins with a profusion of animal and plant motifs set against a red background. I'll also be interested in seeing the church's dome with the Assumption of Maria painted by Barnardino Gatti. (Not to be confused with the eccentric Assumption in Parma's Duomo!)
I can't find information on what happened to the original, John the Baptist image. Maybe that'll take a miracle to find.