Shrines abound in Italy and our area is no exception. Shrines, or “Maestine” as they are locally known, can take the form of very simple monuments or can be elaborated into mini-chapels. Especially in the mountains they serve the purpose of a refuge and on more than one occasion I’ve sheltered within their confines during a sudden and violent summer thunderstorm. Here is a typical, traditional shrine I spotted yesterday on the way to Lucca:
It’s a real pity about the fast deteriorating fresco inside it.
Approaching the walled city via the beautiful road which leads to Carignano from San Martino in Freddana I noticed what I thought was just a garden shed (or even a porta-loo) by the side of the road. I thought it looked a bit odd, so stopped and had a closer look. This is what I found:
In my schooldays my father, to keep me quiet during longer –than—usual car journeys would give me”“I-Spy” books published by the now-defunct “News Chronicle”. There were various titles concentrating on towns, churches, animals and so forth. One had to spot things listed in the books and then write down in them when and where spotted or “spied”. Different scores were given according to how rare the item was. Top score was forty points. The real challenge was a title: “I-Spy the Unusual”. From that book I remember highest scores given to such items as thatched telephone boxes and transporter bridges. When the book was completed it had to be verified and signed by one’s parents and then it could be sent to the News Chronicle where it would be stamped with approval and returned with a real “red-skin” feather from “Big Chief”!
Of course, such a series and activity today would be meaningless since one could look up such things via the internet and, anyway, many kids today seem to be more interested in playing their computer games rather than looking out through a car window to find interesting things.
I thought of this book in connection with what I saw on the road side. What would it be listed as? “Portable Shrine” or “Shrine in the form of a shed”? Be this as it may, the shrine I “spied” showed serious signs of devotion to it and the flowers laid on it were fresh. Behind the statue of the Virgin there was a beautiful poem about the great Silence that lives around her and leads to deep religious thoughts.
Unfortunately, there was no-one around to tell me why this unusual sort of shrine was there and what was the story behind it. Many shrines are placed where they are because of something sacred associated with the location, whether it be some saintly connection, an amazing escape from a mortal accident or even a saintly apparition. Perhaps in this case, there had been an apparition of Our Lady? I won’t know until I get back to the shrine and find out more by asking its caretaker.