The sacred and venerated image of the Madonna delle Grazie is a wooden statue of Mary with the child in her arms with a blessing. It is kept in a niche in the chapel dedicated to her, in the sanctuary of Santa Maria delle Letizie, hidden behind a wooden table painted with her image of her. It is the most revered sacred object by all the people of Artenesi.
This devotion is also intertwined with the different traditions that accompany it, of which the most particular is, of course, the fact that the statue can only be carried by barefoot people. The reason is to be found in the tradition, handed down for generations, on its discovery. This narration has it that the statue of the Madonna delle Grazie was found in what must have been a basement of the ancient Franciscan convent of San Michele Arcangelo. Even before the discovery, in that place, the boars who took the cattle to pasture told of always hearing, at noon, the sound of a bell. One day a farmer saw a part of the land he was working sinking and, together with other companions, he went down into the cave below and found the statue of the Madonna delle Grazie. They tried in vain to pull her out of the cave, but the statue was not about to detach itself from the ground. They then decided to take off their shoes and, only then, were they able to lift the statue and bring it back to light.
Along with this devotional act, the artenese tradition wants the venerated image of the Madonna delle Grazie to remain “hidden” from view throughout the year with only two ordinary public displays: the Friday before the third Sunday in May; and near the feast of the Holy Name of Mary, on 12 September. There have been, in history, extraordinary public expositions such as, for example, the Sunday ones during the lockdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, but these are always caused by extraordinary and often tragic events.
The veiling of sacred images and the most famous relics has been in use for several centuries in the Church and has biblical roots. We read, in fact, in the Scripture, that the Ark of the Covenant, where the Tablets of the Law given by God to Moses were laid, was kept in the so-called Holy of Holies, inside the Temple of Jerusalem, which hid it from the sight of all of them and that only a priest, once a year, could enter and be in front of him for the officiating of the foreseen rites.
Another example, certainly famous, is the Holy Shroud kept in the cathedral of Turin, which is exhibited for public worship only on rare occasions. To date, the last exhibition took place in 2015, from 18 April to 24 June.
The repositioning and veiling of the images serve to stimulate man’s deep desire for contemplation. All the great biblical characters, from Abraham to Moses, during their lives have desired the contemplation of the divine face, arriving only, however, to contemplate its shadow. The Gospel is no less rich than this desire, in fact, it is enough to remember the apostles who ask Jesus to show them the Father. This desire is also sung by the psalmist, when he praises “your face I seek Lord, do not hide Your face from me”.
Therefore, the choice that our fathers and mothers handed down to us, to make even the display of the sacred image of Our Lady of Grace rare, serves to increase desire, expectation, respect and greater veneration for Mary.
Even if veiled from her eyes, Our Lady of Grace is always present and jealously guarded in the heart of every devout person who, contemplating her in secret, discovers in her the gift of life and grace.