The Chapel of Our Lady of Vitaleta reopens to the public
Val d'Orcia's most photographed symbol is back on display
The Chapel of the Madonna di Vitaleta is a small jewel set among six iconic cypress trees near San Quirico d'Orcia, a town in the centre of the Unesco World Heritage Valley. A church rich in history, which the recent restoration has returned to the community of San Quirico and beyond, and which now rediscovers its sacredness, intimate and timeless.
Legend has it that during the 16th century, on the exact spot where the church stands, Mary appeared to a shepherdess and suggested that she invite the people of San Quirico to go to a Florentine workshop, where they would find the statue to be placed in the church of Vitaleta.
So, thanks to the offerings of the people, the devout people of San Quirico bought a beautiful glazed ceramic Madonna by Andrea della Robbia from the workshop of the family of the famous Florentine artists della Robbia. And, between the end of the 16th century and the first decades of the 17th century, a church was built in Vitaleta, on the border between San Quirico and Pienza, to dignify the white sculpture. Over time, numerous miracles were attributed to the sacred image, as local historians recount.
The Madonna was invoked every time there was a famine, a pestilence or an earthquake and, in 1822, she was even taken in procession to Siena where she was displayed in the city's cathedral. From then on, the statue was moved to San Quirico more and more frequently, until, in 1861, when it was found that the old chapel was unfit for use, it was decided to move it permanently to the Collegiate Church of San Quirico.
From 1870 onwards, the Della Robbia statue found its definitive home in the former convent, which changed its name to the Church of Maria SS. di Vitaleta in her honour.
In the 1880s, the original church, by then abandoned, was demolished. In its place, the owner, a private citizen of San Quirico, commissioned the famous Sienese architect Giuseppe Partini to build a new church, which was inaugurated in 1885. Since then, the cult of the Madonna developed so much that, around the 10 th century, the Pope granted her the golden crown, which is awarded when important miracles are performed. Since then, every first Sunday in September, a festival is celebrated in her honour.
THE CHAPEL OF VITALETA TODAY
The chapel is now the property of Pasquale Forte, a visionary entrepreneur who, intimately linked to these places and to the Madonna of Vitaleta, strongly wanted to revive the chapel, giving it back its original meaning of religiousness and devotion and its beauty, through a restoration that has given back soul to this place, making it accessible again, in conditions of maximum safety. A project of intervention both outside and inside, respecting the simplicity that distinguishes it.
A photograph of the Madonna of Vitaleta has now been placed on the altar, waiting to host the work of a contemporary artist.
On Sunday 18 July, with a Mass celebrated by the Archbishop of Siena, Cardinal Lojudice, four months after the start of the restoration work, Vitaleta's chapel reopened to the public and devotees.
Until September, the centenary of the coronation of the Madonna of Vitaleta will be marked by a full calendar of celebrations: instrumental and choral concerts, flag-waving by the Quarters and other activities. And the traditional ten-year celebration in September will be a special one this year, where, in addition to the religious liturgy, a book dedicated to the troubled and complex historical events of Our Lady of Vitaleta will be presented, accompanied by a musical performance and a fireworks display.
THE RESTAURANT OF VITALETA
The Ristoro Vitaleta, next to the Chapel, is a new place designed for all visitors who want to take a break and taste the excellent local products of Podere Forte: Cinta Senese cured meats, Terre di Siena D.O.P. extra-virgin olive oil, fresh bread made with Senatore Cappelli durum wheat flour and other typical products selected from among the excellent products of Valdorcia, together with Podere Forte wines. All organic and biodynamic.