The Presbytery

The presbytery shows a composite appearance in our days. If the structure is still the older one, with a polygonal apse, the interior shows the results of the renovation ordered at the time of Giulio Romano, the arrangement ordered by Maria Gonzaga in the 17th century and the debarking carried out with the restoration in 1928.

Now the walls appear bare, but they were entirely frescoed in the 16th century (a few pieces survive, suggesting at least one scene, the Stigmatisation of St Francis). Higher up is a frieze with plant spirals and putti, while the vault is divided into geometric compartments traced with false frames. In the apse basin, five claw lunettes stand out, four of which are frescoed with effigies of characters from the Old Testament, while the central one depicts the Eternal Father crowning the Madonna.

The small marble temple was much more advanced; its current location is due to 20th-century restorations thanks to which the image of Mater Gratiae was also placed inside it (1932). The structure was commissioned in 1646 by Princess Maria Gonzaga, then regent of the duchy on behalf of her young son, in execution of the will of Ercole Gonzaga of Guastalla; it is an elaborate architectural structure with a central plan, covered in polychrome marble and adorned with small sculptures among which two angels stand out and, at the top, the image of the Assumption.

At the base of the small temple is the ancient altar, restored after damage caused by a hurricane in 1733, characterised by the antependium magnificently inlaid in marble, creating plant motifs around the monstrance, while at the sides, framed by small columns, are the figures of the Evangelist John and St Francis. Below is the crypt, vaulted and decorated with figures of saints and sacred scenes. In the apse, characterised by a double-rounded wooden choir of no less than 50 stalls, the altarpiece of the Assumption (for decades incomprehensibly housed in the Old Sacristy) has finally been relocated after a major restoration, with the portraits of Ferrante Gonzaga and his wife Isabella di Capua at its base, who commissioned the reorganisation of the space. The work, for which a preparatory drawing by Giulio Romano exists in the Louvre, was executed by the master's workshop.

The icon of Mater Gratiae, which according to one tradition is said to have been painted by St. Luke, is actually an extraordinary work of art dating back to the end of the 14th century. Painted on an imposing wooden panel, it reveals, even in its pictorial quality, a refined patronage that can be traced back to Francesco I Gonzaga, who was also responsible for the renovatio of the entire temple. The restoration carried out in 2007 allowed for the recovery, beneath recent and incongruous pictorial layers, of an older image in keeping with traditional iconography but of superior refinement. Not only: non-invasive analyses have allowed for the reconstruction of the ancient image, the fourteenth-century one, enhanced by a sky of golden stars placed in relief, and by a development not far from the works of Tommaso da Modena.

Iconographically, she is a Madonna Theotokos, or 'Mother of God', in the eleĆ¹sa variant, i.e. 'of tenderness'. Mary, in fact, appears in her greatest title of glory, that is, as the one who gave birth to the Son of God, with whom she entertains a relationship of tender affection: a relationship that extends to all her Son's brothers and sisters, and is therefore an image suited to inspire confidence in those who turn to her. It is no coincidence that an inscription appears at the top of the panel calling the Virgin 'Mother of Grace, Mother of Mercy'.

For further information click here: Sanctuary bibliography and insights

Santuario delle Grazie
Pick a flower for the Blessed Virgin Mary of Grace