Museum of the Beata Vergine della Ghiara Sanctuary
Museo del Santuario della Beata Vergine della Ghiara
The origin of the Sanctuary is connected with the presence in Reggio Emilia of the Servants of Mary, who were called to the city by the community of Reggio Emilia in 1313.
Read moreSet in the perimeter wall of the monastery they built was a votive image of the Madonna with Infant Jesus which the citizens of Reggio Emilia worshipped with particular devotion. Due to the damage caused by time and exposure to the elements, the image was replaced by a new iconographic representation designed by Lelio Orsi in 1569, commissioned by the nobleman Pratissoli and made into a fresco by the painter Giovanni Bianchi, from Reggio Emilia, known as Bertone. The drawing, which shows considerable artistic originality, is currently held in the Ghiara Museum together with the sinopia.
The new image attracted growing numbers of religious worshippers and on 29th April 1596 the great miracle took place: Marchino, a deaf and dumb orphan from Castelnuovo Monti born without a tongue, was gifted with the power of speech while praying before the image of the Madonna.
This miracle was followed by many more; so many that the city of Reggio Emilia decided to build a great church to house the miraculous image.
On 6th June 1597, in the presence of the Dukes of the House of Este, the Bishop of Reggio laid the first stone of the new temple of the Basilica of the Madonna della Ghiara. On 12th May 1619, in a deeply solemn occasion, the Basilica was formally opened and the image of worship was moved from the ancient chapel (which had been built to shelter it) to its new sumptuous location.
A number of very important early 17th-century artists from Emilia worked on the new Basilica. Those who participated in the grand pictorial decorations included Ludovico Carracci, Guercino, Lionello Spada, Alessandro Tiarini, Luca Ferrari and many others. The Basilica’s stucco decorations, sculptures, furnishings, liturgical objects and its numerous vestments are also of the finest quality.
The precious materials in the Sanctuary Museum are the fruit of the great devotion felt by the community as well as by the Ruling Dynasties, Guilds and Confraternities.
The museum and its treasures
The Basilica della Ghiara Museum, housed in several rooms on the ground floor of the building which separates the two cloisters from the monastery, was founded in 1982 by the decision of the Vestry of the Temple and of the City Museums (of which it is one of the collections). Its essential function is to preserve and exhibit items relating to the most important events in the Basilica’s artistic heritage. Its exhibits include some of the objects offered to the miraculous image of the Virgin Mary as a sign of devotion and entrusted to the Temple through the centuries. Even before the laying of the first stone of the new church, in fact, the monastery started receiving large quantities of donations in the form of money and precious objects, which not only served as a financial resource for the construction of the church but also formed the core of what was to become the Basilica’s Treasure.
Although many of these objects have been lost over the years for a variety of reasons – not least due to the french requisitions carried out between the late 18th and early 19th centuries – a look through the handwritten inventories still held in the Temple’s archive gives us an idea of the vast quantity and high value of the gifts that steadily flowed to the monastery of the Servants of Mary. Among the donors, the names of illustrious members of the Italian nobility feature prominently alongside those of confraternities and town guilds.
The Ghiara Museum thus enables us to see to this day the strong bond that has linked the city to its Temple over the centuries.
The Museum consists of four rooms.
The Iconographic Room, dedicated to the iconography of the Virgin Mary, holds the sinopia of the miraculous image. The room was refurbished in October 2014 and its exhibits include a painting which was returned to its place of origin after centuries of exile: the Annunciation, painted by Carletto Caliari for the high altar of the Basilica. There are also two paintings previously held in the City Museums: a small canvas by Carlo Bononi and a painting by Biagio Spagni owned by Santa Maria General Hospital.
In Room I of the Museum are the famous ducal candelabra, among the most important silver works in the Museum and consisting of a cross and six candelabra used to decorate the altar of the Madonna during Holy days. They were made by the Roman goldsmiths Gian Francesco Frangi and Marco De Marchi between 1631 and 1634 and donated by Duke Francesco I d’Este during the time of the plague as a sign of piety and devotion to the Madonna della Ghiara.
In Room II, set in a fine eighteenth-century silver leaf frame, is the drawing by Lelio Orsi of the Madonna with Infant Jesus made by the painter in 1569, on Ludovico Pratissoli’s commission, and from which Bertone made the fresco image that is the object of great devotion.
In the same room it is possible to admire some of the oldest and most precious gifts acquired by the Museum. They include a necklace, two pectoral crosses, a jewel for a priest’s hat and four pendants with a knight on a lion, a camel (from the same workshop), a dolphin and a pelican in gold, enamels, precious stones and pearls.
In Room III is the civic and religious emblem of the Basilica della Ghiara: the Crown, in perforated and gold-plated silver sheet with chasing finishing, a magnificent artwork by the goldsmith Matteo Augusta who worked in Reggio Emilia.
The crown was gift offered to the Madonna by the Community of Reggio Emilia as a gesture of thanksgiving for the grace received on many occasions and on 13th May 1674 it was carried to the Basilica della Ghiara in a solemn procession, amid great pomp and accompanied by triumphal chariots as was the custom in the Baroque period.