Help, M’lady!

Frescoed on walls in many Italian towns is a woman holding a cudgel and defending a small child against an often pathetic horned beast. This is the iconographic representation of the Madonna Del Soccorso, or Madonna of Succour (or help). One story about the event goes like this: a dad got fed up with his little son’s antics and shouted at him “go to hell!” – upon which the Devil appeared and tried to grab the child. The Madonna then appeared with a cudgel (not to chastise the child as some would irreverently suggest) but to give the Devil a bad knock on the head.

The major centre for the adoration of the Madonna Del Soccorso is San Severo in Puglia where the Madonna Del Soccorso is the patron saint of that city and is celebrated in two sumptuous processions, complete with fireworks, on May the 8th each year.

The Madonna of Succours makes a big appearance in the great San Frediano basilica of Lucca where her image is on the walls of a chapel built by in 1509 by Eufrosina Compagni, who commissioned Giuliano da Pisa to paint the fresco.

It was time for the helpful Madonna to make her appearance, at least liturgically, at the chiesina of Guzzano when Don Luigi the biker-vicar from Corsagna, famous for its Philharmonic band, came to celebrate Mass yesterday afternoon. It was a well-attended event and followed by a raffle draw.

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The chapel of the Madonna Del Soccorso is one of two churches or chapels in little Guzzano.

The other is the Chiesa Del Poggio di Guzzano – the Church on the Hill – officially known as the Madonna Della Neve (or Madonna of the snow) – referring to another miracle when it snowed in August. (I can believe in that miracle as this year it snowed here in June and hailed in August.)

The Chiesa Del Poggio is a very beautiful building, somewhat difficult of access and sadly damaged by the earthquakes we’ve been having this year – especially the great one on January 25th. The chiesina was last enlarged in 1537.

As a result of that January earthquake much of the ceiling above the altar fell down, damaging the floor and benches. Fortunately, no-one was in the building at the time, else they could have been seriously injured or even killed.

The restoration project will cost Euros 11,348.92 and involves installing scaffolding, removal of the entire roof covering, removal of those parts dangerously standing, reconstruction of both sides of the roof, and a general repair of the chiesina’s ceiling.

Guzzano needs Euros 7000 for the project to go ahead and stop the building from collapsing entirely…

Personally, I feel that the vaulting, which is the later 1537 addition, does not need to be restored but that the original roof beams should be left exposed as they are more in the spirit of the original mediaeval construction and are also interestingly decorated.

I also think that the Madonna del Soccorso was with us when we did the whole Autostrada from the Veneto to Tuscany without any effective brakes, when we landed on a mountain road at night without any headlights to find our way home and when the car ground to a halt, again at night, on the Via Aurelia on a very busy strada statale without any rescue lanes – all in the space of a week this summer. Perhaps a few ex-votos should be commissioned by us and hung up on the Madonna’s altar at her sanctuary in Livorno (full of the most amazing ex-votos and a delight for any insurance agent).


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