The Church of the Madonna della Consolazione, commonly called ‘’Parrocchia’’, is located in the lower part of Termini Imerese, specifically in Piazza Liborio Arrigo, among Corso Umberto e Margherita, Via Vittorio Emanuele and Via Santuario della Consolazione.Its massive front side and the monumental Baroque staircase that enriches it, make the whole square solemn.
The miracle and the origin of the church
Initially, the first church, smaller in size, had been obtained from the shop of the apothecary Cosmo D’Agra. He had an image of the Madonna painted by Costantino Boccaccio on an external wall of the building. Indeed, the origin of the Sanctuary is due to a miracle that occurred on 19 June 1553, which made the painting famous throughout the area and determined the future of the church.It is believed that Mrs Domenica called ‘’la rossa’’ had a son who had been paralysed since birth; the doctors had tried everything but in vain.By then, everyone had given up for the child’s recovery, except the woman, who everyday faithful went to the apothecary’s shop to buy oil to light the lamp that enlightened the image of the Madonna and, with it, sprinkled also her son’s legs, hoping for a miracle.Until one morning, when the woman went to wake up her son, saw him get out of the bed and stands on his own legs now healed.The word of the miracle spread not only in Termini Imerese but also in the neighbouring towns, so an increasing number of believers went to the apothecary’s shop to honour the painting with gifts, alms and flowers.From that day on, the image of the Madonna was named ‘’Nostra Signora della Consolazione’’ [Our Lady of Consolation] because it was the consolation of those who invoked it.
“Non si sa esattamente quando cominciarono i lavori della chiesa; probabilmente poco dopo il miracolo. Tuttavia, se si considera il significato originario di “chiesa” che sta ad indicare una comunità di fedeli che si riunisce in un luogo stabilito per pregare, non c’è dubbio che la “Madonna della Consolazione” fu fondata in quello stesso giorno in cui avvenne il miracolo e che quindi il 19 giugno 1553 è la data da ritenere come fondamentale nella storia di questa chiesa.” 1
[There is uncertainty about when the work on the church began; probably after the miracle. However, considering the original meaning of ‘’church’’, which indicates a community of believers who gather in an established place to pray, there is no doubt that ‘’Our Lady of Consolation’’ was founded on the same day of the miracle. Therefore, 19 June 1553 is the date at the origin of this church.]
Once arising the need for a parish in the lower part of the town, in 1556 it was decided to make the Church of the Madonna della Consolazione a subsidiary parish of the Chiesa Madre (proclaimed an independent parish in 1933).Although, the number of worshippers was increased and the parish became inadequate to meet their needs. Consequently, it began the work for a larger church, but even this latter was considered insufficient to welcome all the worshippers. Due to this, in 1647 the Sanctuary has expanded once again, building the large church that we can see nowadays.
“Per poter effettuare l’ampliamento venne chiusa la strada su cui la cappella prospettava e lì venne costruita la navata della nuova chiesa. La porta d’ingresso fu aperta sull’attuale via Porta Erculea dove ancora oggi, in corrispondenza della cappella delle SS. Cinque Piaghe, ne rimane qualche traccia. L’altare maggiore invece fu collocato nella parte opposta, dove oggi si trova la cappella di Maria SS. del Rosario. Fu inoltre demolito il muro di prospetto della prima chiesetta che, aggregata al nuovo edificio, ne diventò una cappella laterale. Infine venne realizzata un’altra cappella facendo a questo punto assumere alla pianta della chiesa una forma vicina a quella della croce greca.” 2[The road over which the chapel stood has closed to carry out the enlargement and built the nave of the new church. The entrance door has located on Via Porta Erculea, where some traces of it are still visible at the chapel of the SS. Cinque Piaghe. On the opposite side, it stands the major altar, in the chapel of Maria SS. del Rosario. The front wall of the first small church, demolished and merged with the new building, has become a side chapel. Finally, another chapel has built, giving to the plan of the church a shape close to the Greek cross.]
Traces of the ancient door that opened onto the Via Porta Erculea.
The church as known nowadays
The works that have contributed to the church’s current appearance and dimensions began in 1647. The large chapel, the transept with the two side wings and part of the nave were completed.In 1958, next to the chapel, began the construction of the bell tower, in the sacristy, afterwards completed in 1972. During this period, under the guidance of Father Longo, many works that the church needed were carried out, also thanks to the help, often voluntary and free of charges, of willing masons and builders.The bell tower has two bells, the largest of which dates back to 1580; unfortunately, in 1943, an American bombing destroyed the third bell.
The second miracle
The image of the Madonna della Consolazione is linked to a second miracle that occurred on 14 January 1650, during the enlargement of the church, when the large rope holding the painting of the Madonna broke and it fell to the ground.However, the painting remained intact, the works continued and it found its final place.
The celebration of Madonna della Consolazione
The 14 January has been chosen for the celebration of Madonna della Consolazone. During the Holy Mass, according to tradition, the believers bring in an offering of new oil to give to the Madonna. Throughout the year, the oil is burned in a votive lamp in front of the painting of the Madonna, as has been occurred for more than 500 years. After the celebration, the procession of the copy of the painting of the Madonna begins.
The inside of the church
The plan of the church is a Latin cross, consisting of a nave and two side aisles, with a large presbytery.
Plant of the church
The church is decorated with the amazing stucco works of the Scuola del Serpotta, whose founder was Giacomo Serpotta from Palermo, considered to be the greatest stucco artist in Europe, giving it a magnificent Baroque atmosphere. Serpotta’s pupils also created a shrine containing a painting of the Madonna, which was sadly destroyed. The Baroque is also visible in the access staircase, divided into two wide flights, which distinguishes the Church of Consolazione from other churches in Termini.
Detail of the staircase
There is a total of eight full and four half-columns in the church, surmounted by capitals of composite order. Between one arch and another, in line with the columns, there are medallions in high relief, six on each side; representing the Apostles gathered in Council in Jerusalem, before going out into the world to preach the Gospel. Above the arches, there are entablatures decorated with friezes, of which the cherubs are particularly noteworthy.
Two other noteworthy medallions depict respectively the Madonna supported by two angels and the Angel of Judgement blowing a trumpet, the latter is situated above the entrance door.
Angel of Judgement medallion
“Il transetto separa le tre navate dal cappellone e da due piccoli absidi che quasi si incuneano nello stesso cappellone, sfruttando gli spazi lasciati liberi dalla particolare forma della sua pianta. Il cappellone è infatti impostato su un ottagono irregolare i cui due lati laterali anteriori, posti in diagonale, permettono alle due absidiole di affiancarlo con una disposizione planimetrica quasi singolare.” 3 [The transept separates the three naves from the large chapel and from the two small apses that almost wedge into the chapel itself, exploiting the spaces left free by the particular shape of its plan. The large chapel is set on an irregular octagon whose two front sides, placed diagonally, allow the two apses to flank it in an almost singular planimetric arrangement.]
On the vault of the large chapel, we can see the figure of the Creator with the world in his left hand and the sceptre in his right and on either side of the high altar the two allegorical statues of Justice and Religion. In the church there are two rows of chapels containing various frescoes, paintings, marble statues and wooden statues, many of which are made by unknown Sicilian artists.
The painting of the Madonna
It is possible to admire the painting of the Madonna on the high altar and, from a few years, also in the stained-glass window on the facade. It is on a slate and painted in oil. In the foreground there is the Madonna, wrapped in her blue mantle, holding on her legs the Child Jesus adorned in a white mantle. Both figures wear a golden crown. In the background, the two little angels hold the crown for the Madonna. The image follows a canon already followed in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries: the several seated Madonna.The Madonna’s gaze, her penetrating eyes and her hint of a smile immediately strike the viewer. Looking at the painting, it is undoubted sharing the words of St Therese of Lisieux:
«A un tratto la Vergine Santa mi parve bella, tanto bella che non avevo visto mai cosa bella a tal segno, il suo viso spirava bontà e tenerezza ineffabili, ma quello che mi penetrò tutta l’anima fu il sorriso stupendo della Madonna». [Suddenly the Blessed Virgin seemed beautiful to me, so beautiful that I had never seen anything so beautiful, her face exuded ineffable goodness and tenderness, but what penetrated my whole soul was Our Lady’s stupendous smile].
The painting as a whole inspires feelings of serene sweetness, calm spirituality and spontaneous familiarity.
The painting of the Madonna and the two allegorical statues of Justice and Religion
The new small chapel
The Church of Madonna della Consolazione is one of the oldest Marian shrines in Sicily. Since 1 October 2020, a small chapel of perpetual Eucharistic adoration ‘’S. Teresa di Gesù Bambino’’ has been building in a part of the oratory adjacent to the church. It is open 24 hours a day, except during this period when, following the Covid-19 emergency ordinances, it is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thanks to the current parish priest, Don Enrico Campino, who has been promoting and supporting this initiative, in Termini Imerese the believers take a turn in continuous prayer, discovering the richness of the encounter with God.
- “Storia di un Santuario” by Giuseppe Catanzaro
- “A spasso con Stenio” by Manuela Sinatra and Barbara Indorante
For the one that desires to learn more about this topic, it is strongly recommended the reading of the book “Storia di un Santuario”, from which most information was gathered for the drafting of this article.
Pictures: Kindly given by Roberto Tedesco.
Revision: Kindly made by Manuela Sinatra.
Thanks to Tonino Preiti for the information about the small chapel.
Translation: Kindly made by Alice Scalia.
by Katia Anello