Virgin Mary Sculpted by Lightening


According to an old legend, there once lived a shepherd who used to graze his sheep on the woodland hills of the Amiata. To pass the many hours he spent alone up in the hills, he spent much of his time carving a large branch that he had found nearby. His inspiration perhaps coming from the original shape of the piece of wood, he decided to sculpt a portrait of the Madonna with the Baby Jesus.

However, after being evidently dissatisfied with the progress of his work or perhaps simply annoyed with it, he threw the piece of wood on the fire. We can only imagine his dismay when along with the crackle of the flames he heard a pleading voice begging: “Please, don’t burn me! Don’t burn me!” The astounded shepherd instantly recognized the voice as the voice of Madonna and immediately put out the fire and raced back to the local village to alert the parish of these miraculous events.

However, there is another story which tells a completely different version of these events. The lone shepherd, who had only his flock for company, was taken by surprise by a huge thunderstorm, a storm so violent that he was forced to take shelter under the branches of a large tree. As most of us know, this was a very risky thing to do indeed and unsurprisingly, not long after, an extremely violent bolt of lightening struck, just a few feet from the careless shepherd, causing the ancient tree to immediately fall down to the ground.

Thanking his lucky stars that he had survived such peril, the shepherd stood dumbstruck by these dramatic events and observed the devastated remains of the fallen tree. Only then did he realise that the lightening had, in fact, spared only one branch out of the entire tree, with a clear image of the Virgin with her baby magnificently carved into the wood.

A truly fascinating and unusual story that has been described within the verses of several poems, testimony to this rural area whose oaks had been destroyed by the violent strikes of lightening sent down to earth by Zeus, and thus becoming sacred places.

However, although the two legends tell the story in completely different ways both still explain, in their own way, why the sculpture has been treasured by the Santa Maria parish in Lamulas for centuries, with traces of burns still remaining on its back.

Nevertheless, as is always the case, the local community of the nearby villages fought, almost immediately after the discovery of this unique work of art, over which church would have the privilege of accommodating the prestigious sculpture. In the end, after much deliberation the village of Montelaterone won possession of the sacred portrait which has been proudly displayed within its parish ever since.

However, since her move from the woods to the confinements of the church, the Virgin has shown herself to be a very difficult character indeed, expressing, on many occasions, a clear dislike of her new surroundings. A dislike so intense that, amazingly, she tried many times to sneak silently back to original spot in the forest, where she was always found the next morning. Brought back repeatedly to the church by astonished villagers, the prestigious statue continued to disappear to this same clearing within the woods, during the dead of the night. This disturbing and embarrassing coming and going of the sculpture lasted for some days, until the inhabitants of Montelaterone finally resigned themselves to the fact that the Madonna so obviously wanted to be put back in the place where she had been found. So as to finally grant the Virgin’s wish, they decided to build a chapel directly upon the Madonna’s much desired place of rest where the lightening had once struck so violently. Not long after its construction, the chapel was converted into the Santa Maria Parish in Lamulus, a name most probably Latin in origin.

Following the recovery of the miraculous sculpture, it has been said that the inhabitants of the neighbouring villages wanted to leave the argument over custody of the statue for the heavens to decide. To achieve this, they loaded the saintly sculpture onto the back of a mule, and decided that the sculpture would be accommodated in the first village reached by the animal. However, the mule, probably under the influence of the Madonna herself, ended up, after having completed a big circle around the area, in the clearing from which the statue was taken. The animal was found kneeling down earnestly upon a stone, leaving footprints that are still clearly visible even today. The same marks which that another tradition claims are those of a different mule which parked itself right in front of the entrance of the church, already built to make amends for the blasphemies launched on the address of the sweet Mother of God by that beast.

Today, visitors to the dimly lit parish, can still see the refined figure of the Madonna and baby, whose elegance and poise is reminiscent of many 15th century statues from the Sienese region. This is an observation which is in fact very perplexing seeing as the sacred building which was created to house the sculpture actually appears to be much older, from the late Medieval ages. In fact, there is a stone wall which serves as direct evidence of the destruction of the Parish Church in 1268. Consequently, a cetain amount of speculation has arisen as to whether the statue we see today is perhaps a different statue. Alternatively, some believe that the orininal sculpture, created at the hands of a simple shepherd, was, in fact, at some point, handed over to a more skilful sculptor who then remodelled it so that it was inkeeping with more recent art movements. The chances are, we will never know. However, that intentional burn on the back of the statue, makes you wonder.

Commenti (4) | March 16, 2010

4 Responses to “Virgin Mary Sculpted by Lightening”

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