Small miracles of beauty: ex votos for Madonna del Boden
March 15, 1867. Ex voto signed by painter A. Borghini. In Feriolo, while a new pier was being built, a landslide swamped the town, pushing it into the lake (it is still there, eighteen meters under water). This man was saved for grace received
“And one thousand ex votos to the celestial goddess / who chases away our sorrows / settle accounts for ill mortals, / whose prayers for grace reach the Heavens”: in his “To the Blessed Virgin of Loreto”, Torquato Tasso (1544-1595) hints to the Christian use of ex votos, small objects left inside sanctuaries in gratitude for a prayer answered. In Italy, these tokens of faith often carry the acronym “PGR”, meaning ‘per grazia ricevuta’ (for grace received).
A few years before Tasso was born in Sorrento, on September 8, 1528 in Ornavasso, Piedmont, a young shepherdess fell down a cliff while searching for her sheep; she asked for Mary’s help and was immediately saved, then found her herd near a small chapel which enshrined an image of the Blessed Virgin. It was the Madonna del Boden – from the German word for “plain”, a legacy of the 13th-century colony founded in the area by the Walser, a Germanic people from Switzerland.
After the miraculous saving, locals started to celebrate the Madonna del Boden every year on September 8; in the 1600s, a Sanctuary was built to welcome pilgrims and their numerous ex votos.
Each one tells a story: and while they may seem like small adventures to us, we know the people who lived through them felt huge gratitude for surviving.
1761. A boat was shipwrecked on the Ticino, and four men were left hanging from the rudder. They prayed the souls in Purgatory and saw the Madonna del Boden appear – then reached the shore safe and sound
1859. An artilleryman from the Sardinian-Piedmontese army thanks the Madonna del Boden upon his return from the war
1859. Anonymous ex voto. Two Piedmontese soldiers from the Casale Brigade, probably veterans of the San Martino battle, thank the Madonna del Boden for surviving the war. Two young women who had prayed for grace during the war kneel in front of the Virgin
1860. Giovanni Ronchi fell in the river and almost drowned, but was miraculously saved by the Virgin Mary
1870. Ex voto painted for Emilia Diverio di Baveno. The Madonna has spared the new mother, or perhaps the newborn child. The author is the same of Modesta Caretti's ex voto (see further) painted in 1882
1874. Caterina Magistris da Cannobio, teacher, "Devout and thankful, I bear testimony to a miraculous healing by the merciful Madonna del Boden"
September 1877. Giovanni Lagostina di Gravellona di Pallanza was run over by a carriage along the river. On the background, the Monte Rosa and the Madonna who saved him
May 22, 1881, Montevideo. Mister Pietro Cioli's wife "asks and receives" grace for him. The painting is signed by a Milanese painter
1882. Modesta Caretti was ill, and her husband prays the Madonna to save her
1906. Giovanni Tacchini da Pallanza forgot to check the ladder before trying to climb up to the granary, but lands unscathed. The ex voto is signed by G. Onedi
October 22, 1925. An explosion in the kitchen of Rome's Eliseo hotel, where Aldo Bossi – from Gravellona Toce – was working. The Virgin saved the chef, who painted the incident to remember the grace received
June 13, 1927. While a storm raged over Ornavasso, lightning struck the roof of a cabin and hit the bed where three women were sleeping. Scared, they prayed for a miracle. Noemi Oliva and Eva Crosa-Lenzi are saved by the Madonna and Saint Francis
October 9, 1927. This ex voto by L. Frascoia represents an episode in Omegna: Ermanno Antoniou was run over by a car, but survived and had this memento painted for grace received
June 16, 1932. The scaffolding in a construction site collapsed while a house was being built, and nine workers fell but nobody died
1938, Pallanza. The young Anna Maria Ferrazzini was run over by a large black car, but survived
September 12, 1940, Pettenasco. The young Valentino Moreo was ill, and his mother kneeled and prayed for him. Painted by L. Volta
July 9, 1945. The truck on which Vanda Zantetti was escaping from an air raid collides with a panzer. Grace received
September 20, 1962. Antonia Piretti, from Vogogna, is waiting for the anesthetic before her surgery, which will go well
September 1904, celebrating the Madonna del Boden at the Sanctuary
Vintage postcard of the Sanctuary of the Boden
November 25, 2014