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Santa Maria della Strada

Santa Maria della Strada

Q: Is there a Jesuit Madonna of the Street? Who is she?

A: Roberto Ferruzzi's The Madonna of the Streets is not the only prominent Madonna of the Streets. The Jesuits also have a famous Madonna of the Streets displayed in the Gesu Church in Rome under the title Santa Maria della Strada, or Our Lady of the Street (or Way).

Going back to the fifth century, 425 A.D., the Astalli family erected a shrine to the Virgin Mary in district seven of the ancient city of Rome. The Madonna of this shrine was sometimes called the Madonna degli Astalli, or the Madonna of the Astalli family, which later became known as the Jesuits' Madonna della Strada.1

After establishing the Society of Jesus in 1540, Paul III gave the first Church to St. Ignatius and his companions in February, 1541,after the former pastor and owner, Peter Codacio, became a Jesuit.3 The name of the church was Santa Maria Della Strada.

In 1568, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese erected the Gesu Church of Rome, the mother church of the Jesuits, in place of the church of Santa Maria della Strada in which the icon, Madonna della Strada, was displayed. The tradition was to commemorate shrines and churches that already existed on the land set aside for the new church by building chapels dedicated to those displaced within newer and larger churches.4

Thus, the chapel of the Madonna della Strada came into existence as the home of the icon of the same name. The presence of the icon of the Mother and Child offers two points of immediate interest regarding the meaning of the icon in the context of this major Jesuit Church.

The icon is strategically located between two altars, the first dedicated to St. Ignatius, the second, the main altar of the Church, dedicated to the Holy Name of Jesus. The Church itself is dedicated overall to "God, the Virgin, and Jesus."5 This location of the Madonna chapel illustrates the characteristically intercessory role of Mary; first in the architecture of the Gesu Church, secondly, in the iconographic scheme of the same church,6 which is based upon the Triple Colloquy of Spirituality of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, the heart and foundation of Ignatian spirituality.

The icon of the Madonna della Strada is also the main altarpiece in the Madonna chapel.7 Other paintings include scenes from the life of Mary in the Protoevangelium of James, from the Songs of Songs, and Isaiah of the Hebrew Bible, and from the infancy narratives of the Christian Testament.8

– Father Louis A. Bonacci, S.J.

One of our The Mary Page readers wrote us the following commentary:

To whom it may concern:

Hello my name is Ali. I'm fourteen years old. I'd like to comment about your web site. Your site is very interesting. You mention the Madonna of the Streets on this site, I would just like for you to know the whole story behind this work of art. Personally I adore the Madonna of the Streets, as you and many others call it. The actual title of this painting is Madonnina, meaning 'little mother." Roberto Ferruzzi had no intention for the painting to portray the Blessed Mother. If you would like to read the "true story behind 'Madonnina'" you may find it in the St. Anthony Messenger.

Information Cited:
Stevens, Barbara E. "The True Story behind 'Madonnina'." St. Anthony Messenger, Jan. 2000: 28-32.
I sincerely hope that you find this article as interesting as I did.
Thank you for your time.
Ali G.

End Notes

1) Almagno, R. Stephen, O.F.M. Editor. Mary Our Hope: A Selection from the Sermons, Addresses, and Papers of Cardinal John J. Wright. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1984. 158f.

2) Monumenta Historica Societatis Iesu: Fontes Narrativi, I. Rome, 1943. p. 38.

3) Ibid., p. 38, fn. 149.

4) Almagno, p.159

5) Hibbard, Howard. "Ut picturae sermones: The First Painted Decorations of the Gesu", Baroque Art: The Jesuit Contribution. Rudolf Wittkower and Irma B. Jaffe, ed. New York: Fordham University Press, 1972.

6) Ibid.

7) As the iconographic scheme indicates, the original dedication of the chapel to the right of the main altar was made to St. Francis Assisi. Today, the door of the tabernacle indicates a later rededication to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Cf. Pio Pecchiai. Il Gesu di Roma. Rome: Societa Grafica Romana, 1952. P. 256f.

8) Pecchiai, p.167 name d the paintings in the chapel of the "Madonna della Strada" and indicated the passages associated with a variety of Scripture texts. The following texts were indicated: Canticle of Canticles III, below the picture of the Immaculate Virgin, Canticle of Canticles VII:5, below the picture of the Virgin Assumed, Canticle of Canticles VI.9, Psalm 44:15 and 16, commenting on the Presentation of Mary in the temple, the betrothal of Mary and Joseph for Matthew 1:18, Luke 11:5, the Annunciation and Visitation from Isaiah 12:14 and Luke 1:1.

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