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Madonna of the Orphans: Practically covered in gratitude

Madonnelle Rome

Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA

Madonna degli Orfani

Marinella Bandini - published on 05/22/17

Our tour of Rome's Madonnelle today takes us to a relatively new shrine that highlights Mary's generosity.

We continue with our daily tour this month through a particular artistic expression of Marian devotion: Rome’s “Madonnelle” (“little Madonnas”). These are images of Mary—some of them miraculous—scattered throughout the streets and alleyways of the city. They are the object of much popular devotion. Follow the series here: Little Madonnas of Rome

Madonna of the Orphans: Viale Trastevere

Madonnelle Rome
Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA
Madonna degli Orfani

There is a wall on Trastevere Way, in front of which it’s not uncommon to see someone praying with their back turned to the come-and-go of the buses, trams, and cars. On the opposite side of the street from the Ministry of Education, on the wall enclosing a sports field, there is a semi-circular niche which contains a small bas-relief Madonna in an attitude of prayer. The little shrine was built at the beginning of 1944 by sculptor Arrigo Minerbi, and is dedicated to the “Madonna, Protector of Orphans” of Don Orione, an institute which, starting the previous year (1943), was housed in the adjacent building—which was used, precisely, to take in orphans. Still today, an opening in the wall invites passersby to leave an offering: “Bread for the orphans.”

Madonnelle Rome
Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA
Madonna degli Orfani

The image, protected by a pane of glass, is made of colored terra-cotta (the dominant colors being the blue of the clothes and the ocher background); the travertine tympanum gives a touch of monumentality to the work. This “little Madonna” was the object of great devotion right from when the shrine was built, and even today it is always surrounded by fresh flowers and votive candles. In the meantime, the number of “ex voto” tokens left by the faithful on the surrounding wall has reached the hundreds, and the tokens almost cover the shrine completely. They consist of plaques and objects of all shapes and sizes. The oldest ones date from the 50s, and have by now become partially erased by the passage of time.

Madonnelle Rome
Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA
Madonna degli Orfani

Many simply contain the inscription P.R.G. (per grazia ricevuta, “for a favor received”); others relate stories of healing, conversion, or children conceived after many years of waiting and many prayers.

One plaque from 1954 reads: “I asked many times … I received many times.”

Another, from 1961: “Have faith! Ask and you shall receive.”

And another: “Under your mantle, I seek help, and receive protection and aid.”

One devotee revisits a famous saying, and writes: “I came, I saw, I prayed, I conquered.”

Particularly significant is a plaque from December 31, 1964: “Madonna, the orphans thank you.”

Some plaques are recommendations for passersby; for example, on a large marble plaque (dated 1971) you can read: “Unemployed, or suffering for any reason: stop suffering—entrust yourself to the Madonna!”

Madonnelle Rome
Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA
Madonna degli Orfani

There follows an account of the favors obtained “by the system of praying to Her, thanking Her, and making Her known.” In short, “don’t worry; if you have made a good confession, the essential is to ask the Madonna [for what you need] with humility, trust, and insistence.”

A plaque signed by a certain Tatiana Lazzari recommends: “Open wide your hearts, because nothing is impossible; give Her the chance, and She will lead you across the threshold of hope.”

Someone named Rodolfo puts in the mouth of the Virgin these words of appeal to those who pass by: “Dear son, as you pass along this road, I will accompany you if you will say from your heart: Hail Mary.”


Follow the series here: Little Madonnas of Rome

See more articles like this at Aleteia’s Art & Travel section.

Little Madonnas of Rome
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