Fotografia di Roma: Madonnelle

Photo courtesy of Amber Conwell

Imagine the time of Rome when the thought of street lamps lining every street was a mere aspiration. Walking the small alleyways in complete darkness of the night, hearing the little bustles of movement, but unable to see. Maybe a rat or maybe something else creeping about. From a distance is a dim glow seeping around the corner. Drawn to the little flickering light, it gets brighter and brighter. On the corner there is a lantern that reveals a small shrine behind it. In an intricately detailed bronze frame is a painting of the Virgin Mary. For a moment, something seems to shift in the painting, as if her eyes had changed their gaze. Maybe just the flickering light playing tricks, or maybe the fabled stories of the Madonnelle’s moving eyes are true.
The now fading and unkept paintings which decorate various corners of the city were once believed to have supernatural powers. They could heal the sick, give good fortune to the poor, and apparently intervene in disputes. It has been proclaimed that during several fights (and even a few murders) that took place in front of various shrines, Mary appeared to be weeping real tears. By some accounts, she had even stopped a few violent interactions.Typically when such acts of prodigy were witnessed, the Madonnelle was taken down and placed in a sanctuary somewhere else.
Some of the most baffling and renowned occurrences recorded took place in July, 1796. Legend has it, throughout the city of Rome some of the Virgin Mary’s images in the small Madonnelles began to move simultaneously. In some cases, the eyes moved sideways, and in others, vertically. Whether it had been the heat of the summer or maybe just a little too much vino, crowds of people claimed that they had seen the peculiar events occur. Convinced that this prodigy had happened, a man climbed a ladder to measure the angle movement of the eye with a compass, determined to prove that what they saw was true. The mysterious events of the moving eyes was considered to be a bad omen. When Rome fell to Napoleon’s troops two years later, the people took it as a confirmation of their belief in the mystical occurrences.
Of the five hundred Madonnelles’ left, out of the thousand that existed before, you can find quite a few in the Jewish Ghetto, Trastevere, and areas around the Vatican. The pictures posted are just a few that we have stumbled upon. Although we have not experienced these supernatural events ourselves, you might keep your eyes peeled when walking the streets of Rome in the night. You never know if you will come across a madonnelle and witness her moving eyes.

-Amber Conwell