Saint of the Day – 17 July – The Madonna of Humility – Madonna dell’Umiltà, Pistoia, Tuscany, Italy of which City the Madonna is the Patron.
In 1383, Paolo Serafini painted the fresco of the Madonna dell’Umiltà for the chapel of Santa Maria Forisportam (St Mary Outside the Gate) outside town. A century later, Pistoia erupted in bloody civil strife due to internal conflict between local families of the Panciatichi and Cancellieri.
On 17 July 1490, a group of people took refuge in the Chapel. While the Mass was being celebrated by the Priest, Fr Tommaso Benannati at the Altar of the Madonna. In the light of a rayS of the sun, they could see oozing from the front of the Virgin’s image, a few drops of liquid of vermilion colour – which was immediately understood to be blood, descended to the Virgin’s feet, trickling down and tracing wide streaks. Some witnesses rang the bell, while others ran to spread the news. he combat ended and both sides ran to see the miracle. This miracle lasted for several months and it’s traces are still visible.
The Pistoiese wept for this painful sorrow of the heavenly Mother, caused by their obstinacy in hatred and divisions, they swore peace and forgiveness and promised to build a Holy Shrine to the heavenly Mediatrix.
The authenticity of the miracle, after careful examination, was confirmed by the Bishop Niccolò Pandolfini, the Podestà Pietro Vettori, the Capitano del Popolo, the Gonfaloniere and the Priori. The enthusiasm and popular devotion to the Madonna of Humility grew dramatically, so much so, that the need arose immediately to provide for an expansion of the small Church to contain the crowds of believers who came from everywhere and still do. And, to fulfil their promise, a magnificent new sanctuary, renamed for the painting, was dedicated at the site on 31 December 1582. In 1931, Pope Pius XI elevated the church to the status of Minor Basilica.
The image shows the humble Madonna seated on a cushion on the floor, nursing the child at her right breast. The Basilica celebrates the Feast of the Madonna of Humility on 17 July with solemn Mass and vespers.
There is also a beautiful Chapel to the Madonna of Humility in Rome, a favourite of Pope Pius IX. It is said that, as a boy, Pius IX, born Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti, regularly attended Mass in the Chapel of the Madonna of Humility.
The original Miracle and painting by Paolo Serafini occurred in 1383 but their have been earlier depictions of the Madonna under this title, though not accompanied by a Miracle. The earliest known painting of this type dates to 1346 and is at the Museo Nazionale in Palermo, Sicily. It represents a Madonna seated on a small cushion just above the ground. The Child Jesus that she holds partially looks at the viewer. Domenico di Bartolo’s Madonna of Humility, painted in 1433, was described by art historian Andrew Ladis as one of the most innovative devotional images from the early Renaissance.
Other key examples include the Madonna dell’Umiltà, a tempera painting on wood by Gentile da Fabriano , dating from around 1420 – 1423. Fra Angelico’s representation of about 1430 (which includes two angels) is notable in that Jesus is approached from above, focusing on his divinity. Giovanni di Paolo’s depiction of about 1456 represents a transition in the perception of nature, with the visual landscape forming itself around the seated Madonna.
This Feast of Our Lady of Humility is not celebrated much today, yet I have a fondness for this particular Feast, perhaps because it is so important to recognize the need for all of us to be humble as Jesus told us: “Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me for I am Meek and Humble of Heart…” (Mt. 11:29)
Mary is His first and most perfect disciple who indeed took His yoke – His Father’s Will – even to Calvary! Mary continually learned throughout her life as we are called to do. In looking at the painting I noticed something similar to the icon of Our Lady of Tenderness – Mary is not looking at Jesus but looking at us! As Jesus looks at us, so does she. How important it is for us to find God in prayer and then find Him in all those He sends us to serve!
Jesus Meek and Humble of Heart, make my heart like Yours.
Our Lady of Humility, Pray for Us.