During the planning of our trip to Italy this summer, many people advised us that three days in Assisi was way to much time to spend there. Since our accommodation was already booked, we tried to find interesting day trips to occupy our time. Unfortunately, or so we thought, we soon realized all the places or things we wanted to see and do were inconvenient without a car. Instead of stewing over our error in planning, we decided to spend a few leisurely days exploring Assisi. It turned out to be a great decision.
While Assisi is known as a small town in Umbria, most famous for St. Francis, Italy’s premier saint and founder of the Franciscan order, there is a great deal more to see. Granted, the majority of the sites do revolve around his religious order, but there are also a few other gems worth exploring. We discovered one of these gems on our last day in Assisi. The weather turned out to be a bit dreary, so we stayed closer to home on our walk that morning. We took a different route than we had on prior mornings to check out “what was in our own backyard”.
After a few quick turns, we stumbled upon the Santa Maria delle Rose Church – a short walk from one of the major attractions in Assisi, the Duomo de San Rufino. It was on a side street tucked away from those larger thoroughfares usually clogged with tourists. “What a surprise!” we thought, “Oh, another church.” We had found no information in any of the literature we had collected, nor was it listed on any of our maps. As the clouds got darker and darker, we figured we'd check it out, if only for the shelter.
What we found was a real surprise. This 16th century church is no longer used for services. It has been renovated to permanently display an amazing art exhibit by Guido Dettoni della Grazia, containing numerous sculptures relating to Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
Upon entering the church you see 33 identical hand-sized wooden statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary, each carved from a different type of the world’s wood, one for each of the 33 years that Jesus Christ spent on earth. Prominently displayed atop tall glass cylinders, the statues are arranged in the shape of an Alpha inside an Omega on the church’s floor.
Encouraging this exhibit to become an interactive experience, the artist also created a ceramic version of the statue for visitors to grasp and admire. This hand-held adaptation fits perfectly in the cup of your hands. While maneuvering it and viewing it in different angles, you observe significant moments of Mary’s life. The sculpture actually takes on different images from various angles.
At one angle you see Mary genuflecting as she receives the Annunciation. The rest shows her carrying the pitcher to the well, expecting. Seen from a horizontal perspective, she becomes the Dove of Peace.
According to the artist's website and the exhibit, “We can hold it within us in a gesture of spiritual absorption, living the sensory experience the author presents to us through his installation.”
We could not believe we had not heard about this extraordinary exhibit beforehand. We were the only people inside the church for most of our visit. We had both the exhibit and the knowledgeable curator Mary Preziotti, at our personal disposal. How learned she was. She knew the history of the exhibit, details about the artist (also available on the exhibit website), and extensive information about Assisi. She is married to a local and has lived in Assisi for many years. She was also my age; grew up a few towns away from me in New Jersey. What a small world!
The Santa Maria Delle Rose church does not charge an entrance fee. It is open from 10:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. and again from 3:30 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. Telephone: (+39) 335 6311674. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.