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Saronno (Varese, Italy): Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin of the Miracles

Foto Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin of the Miracles
Foto Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin of the Miracles
Foto Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin of the Miracles
Foto Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin of the Miracles
Foto Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin of the Miracles
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Places  of historical value  of artistic value around Milan (Italy): Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin of the MiraclesThe Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin of the Miracles of Saronno is a gem of late Renaissance and Baroque art and is characterized by a profusion of frescoes, stucco works and decorations that almost stuns.
The information on this page is in large part taken from the book by Angelo Centemeri "Stop pilgrim on the path of beauty - Spiritual Guide to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Miracles in Saronno", purchasable within the sanctuary itself. It illustrates in depth, with the accompaniment of many and very beautiful photos, the decoration of the sanctuary, allowing the visitor to appreciate the symbolic meaning of each element of which it is composed.

The sanctuary is located where in 1460, according to tradition, Our Lady healed the Pedretto, a young infirm. The Virgin spurred him to build a church dedicated to her. Initially a chapel was built, which however collapsed three times. The inhabitants of Saronno after that decided to form a committee of deputies (two representatives of the nobles and four of the people) to organize the erection a large church, whose foundation stone was so laid in 1498.

The complex was built in three steps: the Renaissance part from 1498 to 1516 includes the apse, the presbytery, the antipresbytery, the dome with the tiburium and the bell tower; in 1556 the works for the addition of three spans on three naves and of the sacristy took place; finally, from 1570 to the early 1600s, two more spans were added and the facade, the cloister and the secondary bell tower with the clock were erected.

Regarding the outside, although overall the various parts are well harmonized, from behind, but also from the side, the Renaissance origins appear much better, whereas that origin from the front is completely masked by the imposing baroque facade.

The initial project of the church, in Renaissance style with the planimetry of a Greek cross, is attributed to Giovanni Antonio Amadeo, factory architect of the Milan's cathedral. Certainly due Amadeo is the tiburium (Fig. 3), the structure which externally surrounds the dome, in Bramante style and very similar to the one of the Basilica of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan.
Contemporary to the church the house with the cloister to accommodate the deputies was built next to it, now a museum and picture gallery, and the rectory. From 1511 to 1516 Paolo della Porta designed and built the bell tower.

The facade
It was erected by the will of San Carlo Borromeo and designed by Pellegrino Tibaldi.
Built between 1596 and 1613, it is divided on two levels and richly decorated (even also all surfaces facing downwards are decorated!), although at the same time seems it is almost monochromatic.
In it there are three entrances. The central one is surmounted by a prothyrum supported by two large statues of prophets (maybe Isaiah twice, maybe Isaiah and Ezekiel) with cartouches in their hands with prophecies concerning the Virgin.
The structure of the facade appears supported by sixteen columns distributed in groups of two, eight Doric ones in the lower order and eight Ionic ones in the upper one.
Four niches (two larger ones above the side entrances and two smaller ones beside the main door) contain statues of two prophets and two sibyls. Sibyls, that appear also inside, were often represented in the Renaissance, because they wanted to allude to a parallel between them and the prophets, so to imply that the expectation of Christ was also part of the pagan world.
The trabeation of the first order contains decorative elements that allude to the triumph of the Church. That of the higher level contains instead elements that refer to the doctrine of the Church and to the Revelation.
Above the doors there are panels with reliefs showing episodes from the life of Maria.
Under the tympanum a large black stone plaque marks the dedication of the church to the Virgin. A cherub head surmounts it, almost to watch over it.
The façade ends up with a big balustrade, on the highest point of which there is a statue of the Virgin, flanked by statues of angels playing the trumpet.
Picture Sanctuary of the Blessed Vergin of the Miracles
Picture Sanctuary of the Blessed Vergin of the Miracles
Picture Sanctuary of the Blessed Vergin of the Miracles
Picture Sanctuary of the Blessed Vergin of the Miracles
Picture Sanctuary of the Blessed Vergin of the Miracles

Apse, chancel and antipresbytery
(Fig. 7) They represent the oldest part of the church.
The apse is polygonal (it corresponds to a half hexagon). It houses the icon of Our Lady of Miracles, a terracotta statue placed outside the church until 1581. It is positioned just below a circular window containing a representation of God the Father that crowns her.
The altar was originally against the back wall, and two serving angels were painted (by Bernardino Luini) according to this placement.
Unfortunately, the construction of two doors led to the loss of the lower halves of the representations of St. Catherine and St. Apollonia.
The ceiling decoration is very beautiful, consisting of colored panels including floral elements and putti heads.
Also the remaining part of the presbytery is richly decorated. On the vault there are symbols of the Eucharist made by Alberto da Lodi, while in the lunettes there are frescoes by Luini representing the four Evangelists and four Doctors of the Church.
There is also a small window beautifully decorated with a depiction of the Annunciation.
Wedged between the arches and the architraves there are four sibyls, they also works of Luini, as well as the monochrome allegories of the virtues on the pedestals of the corner pilasters.
On the walls there are also two of the large frescoes by Bernardino Luini hosted by the church: on one side the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple (Fig. 7), on the other the Adoration of the Magi.
The antipresbytery is the part between the presbytery and the central body (the area covered by the dome). Its walls are home to two other representations of Luini: on one side the Marriage of the Virgin, on the other the Dispute with the Doctors (the Finding in the temple).
The first of the two frescoes presents a curious detail: in the background, behind the other figures, you can see the head of an old man with the appearance of Leonardo da Vinci.
All the large frescoes mentioned above were painted by Luini in 1525.

The central body
It hosts at its center the main altar, placed there in 1967 and built by recycling angels previously placed above the tabernacle.
Also in this part of the church there are many decorative elements, all with a specific historic and symbolic significance.
The most obvious elements consist of the two chapels. They host two representations of the major episodes of the life of Jesus from the perspective of Christian doctrine consisting of approximately life-size statues: on the left the Last Supper (Fig. 8), to the right the Deposition. The statues, made of wood, were carved by Andrea Corbetta in the period between 1529 and 1531.
Behind the scene of the Last Supper there is a fresco by Camillo Procaccini depicting servants at work. On the sides, frescoes of landscapes by an unknown author. Procaccini is the author also of two paintings hanging on the walls.
As an attentive visitor will notice immediately, the frescoes on the walls of the chapel of the Deposition are much more recent (Giacomo Mantegazza, 1904).
On the walls of the perimeter of the dome there are statues and frescoes depicting saints. The second ones are works of Luini, except two near the pulpit, clearly in a more ancient style.
Higher up, under the drum, in rounds (some unfortunately ruined) and lunettes, there are frescoes with scenes from the Old Testament painted by Bernardino Lanino and Gaudenzio Ferrari.
Further higher, in the drum that supports the dome, there are twenty wooden polychrome statues of prophets and sibyls. They were built by Giulio Oggioni on design by Gaudenzio Ferrari in 1539 and decorated by Alberto da Lodi between 1543 and 1544.
The sequence of the statues is interrupted, above the passage to the antipresbytery, by a statue of the Virgin while ascending to heaven surrounded by angels sculpted by Andrea and Battista da Corbetta).
The jewel, perhaps of the entire sanctuary, is however represented by the dome (Fig. 9), whose inner area of about 100m 2 large and is completely covered with frescoes. On it Gaudenzio Ferrari depicted 86 angels and 30 puttos engaged in singing and playing. Each angel has his own personal physiognomy and expression and the instruments they play belong to 57 different types.
The characters are distributed in two concentric bands: in the outer one there are angels, in the inner one the smaller putti. In this way a perfect progression is created with the rays of the sun at the center, from which a garlanded bust of the Eternal Father comes out, depicted as he turns to the Virgin who is ascending to Heaven.

The nave
The church's nave (divided into central nave and aisles) was added later, at the behest of St. Charles Borromeo. The aisles end with two altars. In each of the altars there is a fresco of Legnanino.
The vaults of the naves are decorated even more sumptuously than the older parts, with a flood of stuccos and painted decorations that confuses the eyes. The decorations are divided into five panels, corresponding to the spans of the aisles. Each box has at its center a specific symbol of one of the properties of the Virgin.

It is also worth mentioning the confessionals of 1626.
It is, finally, not possible not to mention the presence, in the cloister, of another beautiful fresco by Luini, depicting the Nativity.

Overall the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Miracles of Saronno is a true cornucopia of works of art and original decorative elements, each one of which is with its own narrative and symbolic meaning, in accordance with the concept typical of that time, according to which, in a church, no decorative element can be by chance or responding only to aesthetic criteria.

Other pictures of the Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin of the Miracles in the section Photography of this website

Official Web Site of the Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin of the Miracles

Categories: Places of historical value of artistic value

Piazza Santuario, 1 - 21047 SARONNO (Varese)
Further pictures of Santuario della Beata Vergine dei Miracoli in the section Photography
Saronno (Varese, Italy): Interior of the dome of Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin of the Miracles
Saronno (Varese, Italy): Upper part of the facade of the Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin of the Miracles
Saronno (Varese, Italy): Central body of the Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin of the Miracles
Saronno (Varese, Italy): Central body with dome of the Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin of the Miracles
Saronno (Varese, Italy): Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin of the Miracles - Central body
Saronno (Varese, Italy): Apse of the Sanctuary of Santa Maria dei Miracoli
Saronno (Varese, Italy): Detail of the facade of the Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin of the Miracles
Saronno (Varese, Italy): Adoration of the Magi in the Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin of the Miracles