Rome’s little Madonnas part 1: gems watching over the city

When you’re touring around top sights, or rushing to your office, you’ll likely have seen the many pretty little shrines on the corners or sides of buildings in Rome, most of them dedicated to Mary. Many of these sacred images were put in place to protect the houses they are attached to, as well as the roads they watch over. Others were put up for inhabitants to commemorate a miraculous event or happy occasion. Some date back several centuries, others are more modern, but all have their own unique charm.

I’ve always enjoyed seeing “little Madonnas”, or Madonnelle, when heading to work or shopping at the weekend. But I decided recently to spend a morning strolling around a Roman neighbourhood with the sole purpose of seeing how many I could find. I chose the San Giovanni/Esquilino/Monti district, which is nearest to my house. I took my camera with me so I could take a few photos and later consult a book I have on the Madonnelle.

I had only walked about five minutes when I spotted my first, on Via Merulana, close to the church of Saints Marcellinus and Peter. It is a colourful mosaic depicting the “Madonna of Divine Love”. It dates apparently from the 20th century, when the construction of little Madonnas experienced a revival after the two world wars, as a way of giving thanks for protecting the city during air raids. It was decorated with pretty flowers and plastic candles and had a small overarching roof.


Just a few steps further along Via Merulana, next to the church, I saw the shrine to “Our Lady of Mount Carmel”, the title given to Mary as patroness of the Carmelite order. This one is a golden-framed painting of Mary and Jesus, positioned in a niche in the wall, decorated with flowers. My book dates it to late 19th/early 20th century. This shrine is covered by glass, making it difficult to photograph, but here is my effort:


Walking further up Via Merulana I spotted a small and pretty Madonnella on the corner of a building, which was framed by a blue neon light. This depicts “Our Lady of Fatima” at the moment she appears to three shepherd children.  It is covered by a tiny little roof. An inscription at the bottom reads “For grace received” and the date, 1949.


Further on, to the side of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, I stopped to see the next lovely Madonnella, one that I have spotted many times on my way home from work. This one is a little older than the previous I have mentioned, dating back to between the 18th and 19th centuries. A painting of a young, praying Mary in a dark blue veil is set in an ornate oval frame, held up by two angel statues.


I then turned to the left and headed down into the Monti district, which is one of my favourites in Rome! Along here I spotted several Madonnelle on the sides of houses. Here are a few:madside1



I ended up in Piazza Madonna dei Monti, where I came across a 19th century ceramic Madonna that I was already quite fond of. It’s next to the church of the Ukrainian community in Rome, right on the corner of two streets. Mary is turned to the side and looking downwards contemplatively. She is surrounded by a blue background and framed in a pretty oval.


Finally, I came to a bright and colourful mosaic Madonna which is found on the side of the Church of the Madonna dei Monti, in what was previously a doorway. My book says it was constructed in 1954, to mark a hundred years since the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed, which maintains that Mary was free of original sin from the moment she was conceived. Mary has her arms outstretched and rays of light are projecting from them, and she is stepping on a serpent. She has a halo dotted with 12 little lights.


Overall this was a great way to spend a morning in Rome and I also found it interesting and informative to check the details on each Madonnella. You can find pamphlets and booklets on the little Madonnas in several Roman bookshops. In coming months I’m going to wander around another neighbourhood with a similar task and hopefully will have time to post some more pictures.

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