The Village and the Square

To reach the sanctuary, one passes through the town of Grazie, a village of ancient foundation located seven kilometres from Mantua. The urban centre is located at the point where the road from Mantua splits and to the west leads to Cremona, while to the north it leads to Brescia. It belongs to the town of Curtatone and the parish of Montanara. A very short distance away is the urban centre of Curtatone, which gives its name to the municipality, a historical place because of the famous Risorgimento battle of Curtatone and Montanara. From the main street of the village, through two parallel streets, you enter the large square at the end of which stands the Sanctuary. The religious complex is, evidently, the soul of the village of Grazie.

The large forecourt in front of the temple, which in our days hosts the Madonnari competition on the Feast of the Assumption, was even larger in the past: the current one coincides with the right half of the ancient space. With the Napoleonic suppression of the religious complex, in fact, a large part was occupied by residential buildings of no particular architectural merit. The old square was bordered by a large portico, of which only the shaft corresponding to the fa├žade of the Sanctuary remains.

It was used, together with a series of low buildings in the centre of the square erected in 1652, as a shelter for the merchants who used to gather here around 15 August, the Feast of the Assumption, for the ancient fair, which has been held in Grazie since 1425.

Traces of the ancient arcade survive partially incorporated in some buildings on the eastern side of the square. Right in the middle of this shaft was a building that housed offices, dwellings and a guard post.

On the southern side stands, imposing, Palazzo Sarto, characterised by its turret with an angel placed as a wind-marker.

The structure shows 19th-century forms and an Art Nouveau cantilever roof that was once a tram stop, but structural analysis seems to reveal much older elements, suggesting a building, perhaps a fortified one, that stood at the median entrance to the square and at the frieze of the road leading from Mantua to Brescia and Verona.

It is worth remembering that the name of the palace derives from Angelo Sarto, who had a workshop and post office here. He was the brother of that bishop of Mantua, Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto, who later became Pope under the name of Pius X and who today has risen to the glory of the altars as a saint. In 1848, the palace was the headquarters of the headquarters of the Tuscans at the battle of Curtatone and Montanara, and also saw the presence of the writer Carlo Lorenzini, better known by the pseudonym Carlo Collodi, author of Pinocchio.

Also along Via Francesca are some buildings with characteristic lines, although not very old, such as the Foro Boario or some dwelling houses that testify to the fact that the borough was a well-frequented resting place and meeting place. These streets were also the site of the headquarters (in Palazzo Sarto) and the quartering of the Tuscan troops, later involved in the historic battle of Curtatone and Montanara, during the battles of the Risorgimento.

On the square, which is the churchyard, the Madonnari competition has been held since 1973: it is the oldest themed festival in the world, and one of the few in which asphalt painters are divided into categories. Every year, between one hundred and fifty and two hundred artists from all over the world compete in chalk contests, composing colourful paintings with a sacred theme.

In the small meadow in front of the temple, on the right-hand side, stands the monument with the bust of Pope John Paul II, the last pontiff, in order of time, to visit the Sanctuary on the occasion of the Apostolic Visit to Mantua held on 22 and 23 June 1991 to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of San Luigi Gonzaga.

For further information click here: Sanctuary bibliography and insights

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