Our Lady of Tears, Spoleto, Italy (1494)
The Abbot Orsini wrote: “It is said that this picture, painted on a wall, shed many tears in the year 1494.”
A devout man named Diotallevi d’Antonio Santilli was the owner of a modest house near the town of Spoleto, Italy, located on the road to Trevi. In all the documents of the time, the owner of the house was shown to be Antonio Diotallevi, although in actually the owner was Antonio’s son. With his savings he bought several small plots of land, and he is known to have owned some cattle, but he was not a rich man. He had three children named Sante, Antonello and Baptist.
It was a time when the faithful would often have religious artwork painted on the outside of their homes, and there were students of master painter Pietro Vannucci who would often do the work. On October 4rd, 1483, Mr. Santilli had an image of the Blessed Virgin with the Divine Child in her arms painted on the north-east wall of his residence. Interestingly, the original painting also depicted Saint Francis at the left of the Blessed Virgin. The painting was completed on the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi, but the image of Saint Francis disappeared under the new ornamentation in which the Madonna and her Child was later enclosed in the seventeenth century.
It was nearly two years later, on Friday, August 5, 1485, when there were those who saw tears of blood fall from the eyes of the Madonna. The date of the miracle is precisely confirmed by many contemporary documents of the municipal authorities, and there was also a notary of Trevi who recorded all of the miracles he witnessed, and those records can still be found in the archives of the city of Trevi.
News of the miracle caused considerable excitement, for here the image of Our Lady wept. Word of the miraculous event, which continued for some time, spread far and wide. These were years of famine, war, and pestilence, and the extraordinary event gave people a ray of hope and seemed to offset some of their many serious misfortunes.
People came from all over the region to see the bloody tears fall from the eyes of the Madonna, and not all of them were Catholics or believers. There were also those who doubted, but once they had seen for themselves, many believed. Some received the faith, and there were also incidents of miracles of healing before the image of the Madonna of Tears, because it was called that even then.
There was, of course, a great deal of speculation as to why this image of the Blessed Virgin was weeping tears of blood, and it was finally generally accepted that it was out of sympathy for the people who were suffering so much from the pestilence and famine.
So many came to witness the prodigy that it was necessary to hurry and build a small chapel on the 17th of August, which was only a few days after the event. On the 21st of the same month the first Mass was offered in the chapel with the permission of the bishop of Spoleto. The new temporary chapel was festively decorated with curtains and veils, donated by the faithful. The altar was covered with a tablecloth of green silk. The walls were covered with cloth of blue silk, and many candles were burning before the altar. Soon, permission was given for a daily Mass there, but because of the great crowds, plans were already underway to build a magnificent church to replace the chapel. Money was soon collected, and work was begun on the basilica on March 27th, 1487. It was completed on March 8th, 1489, and was then confided to the Olivetans.
Once the basilica was completed, that portion of the wall that had the portrait of the Madonna and Child was cut away and moved inside the basilica. Housing was also constructed for the Olivetans, although the buildings were eventually turned over to other religious orders.
The basilica is also the home of Perugino’s famous ‘The Adoration of the Magi’ and Giovanni Spagna’s ‘Deposition from the Cross’.