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Maria Bambina, Devotion to

Devotion to Maria Bambina

– Reverend Matthew R. Mauriello

Q: Do you have information on the Divina Infantita (since Vatican II called the little Immaculate Mary) or in Italy called Maria Bambina?

A: The devotion to Maria Bambina (in the city of Milan) can be traced back to 1007, the year in which the church of Santa Maria Fulcorina was dedicated to the "mystery of the Nativity of Mary." The church over time advanced to Cathedral of Milan (Saint Mary Major) to which in 1251 Pope Innocent IV granted in perpetuity a plenary indulgence for those who visit the Cathedral of Milan on the feast day of Mary's Nativity (September 8). From this time on Mary's birthday was celebrated with great solemnity. A new and more beautiful church was built whose high altar was consecrated in 1418 by Pope Martin V; the present Dome was consecrated more than one hundred years later by St. Charles Borromeo in 1572 dedicating it officially to the Birth of Mary. Over the main entrance of the cathedral are the words in bronze letters: Mariae Nascentiwhich can be roughly translated as 'to the Infant Mary'.

Currently, the center of devotion to Mary as an infant is based not in the Cathedral of Milan but in the motherhouse chapel of the Sisters of Charity located in Milan on Via Santa Sofia. The sisters are the guardians of the miraculous wax image of the Infant Mary. It was modeled in wax 1735 by Sr. Isabella Chiara Formari, a Sister of the Poor Clares in Todi, Italy (1697-1744). Modeling of and devotion to wax images of both the Infant Jesus and the Infant Mary were popular in convents and elsewhere during the Counter-reformation. The image of Maria Bambina passed to the hands of Bishop Simonetta, a Milanese, from him to his brother and eventually was entrusted by him to the Capuchin Sisters in 1739. During the suppression of convents under Emperor Joseph II and Napoleon the image was in the custody of Barbara Viazzoli, a former Capuchin Sister. Upon her death it was given to the pastor of the St. Marco Church, who in turn entrusted it to the Sisters of Charity at the Ciceri Hospital in 1842. In 1876 the wax image was brought to the Generalate of the Sisters in Via Santa Sofia where it remains to this day.

Beginning in 1884, various miracles were attributed to the image. Several sisters of the order were healed from grave illness but also the image itself was miraculously rejuvenated and its color changed from a dull gray to the natural flesh hues it has to this day. It was given new clothing, placed in a new crib and transferred in 1884 to the chapel of the convent. From there it was transported in solemn procession to the chapel of the motherhouse (1885) where many pilgrims went to ask for help of the Infant Mary. In subsequent years an archconfraternity of Maria Bambina and the "League of the Innocent" were founded. In 1904 the image was solemnly crowned. It became the custom to offer newly-married couples as wedding gift a small wax image of Maria Bambina. The devotion to Maria Bambina spread from the Milan area to the whole of Italy.

See: Il simulacro e il Santuario di Maria Bambina, Milano 1959, Momenti di una storia, Milano 1953.

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