Monday, Dec 06th

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A bit of blessing is always welcome
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A bit of blessing is always welcome

May is a glorious month: Nature is fully awake and everything is blooming. In the old days, in every culture, goddesses of flowers and fertility got special treats and people indulged in dancing and singing and gardening. In Tuscany,  Calendimaggio was the triumph of love rhymes and countryside echoed verses  by itinerant amateur poets door to door. Girls weaved garlands and dreams, boys planned merry times among wine and roses. As  this sounded too pagan, San Filippo Neri, Florentine abroad, evened things out dedicating the same month to Our Lady. In Rome, he encouraged his disciples to frame the sacred images  with flowers, while praising her with songs and lauds… It became a successful trend and for Catholic Church  May is the Madonna month.

 

 ” in periculis, in angustis, in rebus dubiis, invoca Mariam…” wrote San Bernardo di Chiaravalle and what we are experiencing in these days may really advise us to spare some flowery thought for the Mother of God. Actually, not long ago, religious processions were traditionally organized, some so imposing and pompous that reminded pagan pageantries.  In Tuscany we have plenty of  shrines to honor Her, but one of many rises above all: the legendary Madonna dell’Impruneta.

Tradition says  San Luca was  the author, but being patron of painters doesn’t make him responsible for this sacred image on wood dating back to the XI AD. She has a fascinating story steeped in devotion and superstition, dotted by miracles  specialized in connection with water. She was invoked against drought and floods, extended her power in case of war and plague and was dragged back and forth along the road Impruneta- Firenze during the centuries.  Actually she is considered Florentine lent to the Santuario imprunetano, because the image and the building ( and its income) has always been the prerogative of the powerful Florentine family Buondelmonti.

Medici and Lorena also had a soft spot for this Madonna, bestowing gifts and money  during their pilgrimages of prayers and pic nic, giving her hospitality when she happened to stay overnight in Florence “on duty”. Everything was going smoothly, when Pietro Leopoldo decided to downsize the number of churches, religious orders and cults. (By the way he was responsible for the outrageous demolition of  splendid  San Pier Maggiore) Following his guidelines, In 1784 the regent count of Richecourt wished to see in person the notorious Vergine dell’Impruneta and sent notice to the priest in charge. Mons Giugni had the precaution to give a look himself to the Madonna, hidden for years under 7 brocade capes. What he saw was a black piece of wood with vague traces of an unrecognizable image. Horrified by this ghostly Madonna, he also saw the end of a legend (and income) but the popular veneration had to be sustained. So he called for help Ignatious Hugford, from an English family established in Florence,  a good painter and a pious guy (and a smart merchant of art) Hugford enthusiastically got to work and did a brilliant job, restoring ( re making) Mother and Child taking inspiration from the old Madonna in the Florentine Baptistery. At the end of the day, the painting was as new as in her old days and the Regent was satisfied with great relief of Mons Giugni e Impruneta. Back to her gold age, the Madonna lived other moments of glory during the I and II world wide wars and is still happily settled in her basilica.

She is the sponsor of this lovely town together with Terracotta, joy and pride of Impruneta thanks to centuries of excellent work by specialized artisans  in old  furnaces still active from generation to generation, like MITAL, which exports their artistic  products everywhere (their vases are even in the King’ s garden in Hampton Court, London) She and Terracotta share big celebration on San Luca day, when Impruneta becomes a “ millennial Calendimaggio” although it is October. How cumbersome is this historical “ baggage”?  “  -Great heritage from the past is always a bit heavy – the vice mayor Aramini smiles – but it is a challenge to preserve and improve and promote what inherited, especially with our current advanced technology. Protecting our historical heritage doesn’t mean embalming it. Impruneta is not living under a “glass bell”, rather a sparkling Terracotta emblem embossed with  the Madonna banner, reconciling old wisdom, beauty and industriousness with contemporary problems such as bureaucracy, socio-health challenges and different cultures too.”

 

Margreta Moss

 Fiorentini nel Mondo - UK

 

 

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