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I believe I need a miracle.....


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.

Comments (17)

Very interesting post, about a very interesting church ,Sandra. And hopefully you'll find your miracle in Parma:) I have a feeling you will!


Hey Sandra,

I think there's a glum bug in the air - I've been feeling it too. When you find the miracle/s, please share!

In the meantime, we'll just have to hit the prosecco for some temporary happiness!

Barb Cabot:

I am a believer in Miracles of every sort. You will find your answers in Italy and I'm sure you won't be feeling blue for long once your feet hit the Italian soil. Mantra for today: "I believe...I believe" Take care. I'm very very thrilled for you.

I agree with Candi, I think you'll find it too. And I can't wait to hear more about this very cool church - maybe you can find the J the B image in there. The marian plan is very intriguing too.

Hope that the gloom will lift as the days count off your countdown clock!


Here's hoping the glum bug does not board that plane with you.


I'll give you something to be glum about. In a little over 6 weeks you'll be back from your trip and your next trip to Italy will be a year away. Snap out of it woman! It's I-T-A-L-Y! You'll be feasting in Bologna and lamenting your sore feet before you know it :-)

I'm sorry to hear that you are feeling glum. I am glad you are heading to Parma first so that miracle to work its magic at the start of your trip. Interesting church. I might have to check it out.

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Sandra, I'm sure the glum is temporary. Three weeks in Italy sounds so wonderful. Influenced by Annie's great blog entries, I like your in search of miracle plans for your stay in Parma.

I look forward to reading all about your impressions from your experiences.

Thanks for this wonderful post and have a great day Sandra.

Brad'll Do It:

Did you forget? YOU are a miracle.

You're a smart, classy (and that's from others, as well), attractive woman who is willing to share her vulnerabilities and foibles on a blog. That's miraculous!

You are soon going to that miraculous place, Italy, which, I believe, soothes your soul as much it does mine.

Of course you're glum, you're not in Italy yet! So, fix your favorite pasta, pour a nice Italian red (or white if you prefer), put on the Three Tenors, or Dean Martin, or whatever italianesque music you love, and SAVOR the miracle of Italy, and know that the miracle of you sharing yourself on this blog is a gift to us all.


Hi Candi, thanks! Hope all is going well with your trip planning.

Nirmala, prosecco is an excellent idea -- always perks me up.

Barb, thanks -- that's an excellent mantra.

Annie, you're my inspiration for hunting down miracle-working Madonnas. And John the Baptist as well, I'm definitely hoping to get to the bottom of where his image is. I'd also like to know what miracles these two have worked!

Hi Marcia, I won't let the glum bug come along!

Kathryn, excellent point! I'll have plenty of time for gloom when I get back. Although I'll fret more about gaining weight than sore feet when I'm there!

Hi Girasoli, I should not be feeling glum -- in some ways, this is a great time we're both in; that is, the days before the trip when we have everything to look forward to.

Hi Kathy, you're so right! 3 weeks in Italy will be wonderful, and I'll blog about it along the way so I can re-live the fun.


Brad, what kind things to say, I'm blushing. I will agree that Italy is miraculous, in the way it makes us all feel. The fact that we have lives that allow us to share in that, is also a kind of miracle!

Happy belated birthday, by the way, and I hope that your travel plans for Italy are going well. Soon (well, sooner for me!) we will both be there, eating too much great food, basking in such a great atmosphere -- I can't wait.

Thanks for helping lift my gloom!


As the time draws near for your departure, I know you will feel the excitement and lose the glum feeling.

I can't wait to follow along on your travels!

I'll be curious to see what you find out. One thing I've noticed about all the many miracle-working Madonnas in Venice is that the info about what miracles they actually performed is rather skimpy. The main miracle seems to be all the money that poured into churches that supposedly had one!

Glad the gloom is lifting!


I know how you feel. I felt the same way before Savannah this year. I just couldn't work up any enthusiasm, which was strange since I love savannah so much. Anyway, once I set foot on Georgia soil my mood suddenly lifted. Yours will too, you'll see!


Thanks Nancy, as I watch my trip countdown clock going lower, I am become less glum!

Hi Annie, perhaps I shouldn't be trying to scrutinize these miracles too closely. Miracles are likely in the eye of the beholder.

Kendall, thanks. Sometimes I get a bit glum before an event out of fear that it won't live up to my high expectations. But, as you say, once you're into it, things brighten right up!


Sorry to hear you are feeling glum, Sandra, but glad to know you still have all your own teeth! I am sure Italy will not fail you in your quest for a miracle, nor fail to lift your spirits and make your heart sing again! :)

Here is hoping you find your miracle and the glum dark cloud that you feel you are under disappears before your trip. It is Italy - it is bound to be wonderful.

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