Our Lady of the Day (July 17, 1494) – Our Lady of the Rock (Madonna del Sasso), Balze di Verghereto, Forlì, Cesena, Italy

Balze di Verghereto is a tourist resort in the Tuscan-Romagna Apennines,  fraction of the municipality of Verghereto in the Province of Forlì-Cesena.

Alley in the historic center of Balze (photo by Enrico Gentili) – Di Massbur – Opera propria, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78841603

Nestled at the foot of a rocky cliff not far from Monte Fumaiolo (1,408 meters above sea level) and the sources of the Tiber, the town of Balze (1,091 meters above sea level) enjoys a particularly favorable geographical situation.

Located in the far south of Romagna, the country lies on the border of three regions: Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany and Marche, and not far from the northern tip of Umbria.

The origin of the town of Balze is uncertain. The place was certainly frequented in Roman times, and during the Middle Ages the hermits Saint Alberic of Ocri and Saint Romuald settled there and the monasteries of the Pieve di Vignola, Ocri and Cella were erected, but the first indications of community buildings date back to no earlier than the 15th century, when small groups of shepherds and charcoal burners began to live in the area, rich in woods and pastures.

It seems that two girls, probably sisters, after witnessing the apparition of the Virgin on a large boulder, recovered from their disability. The news of the miracle spread quickly, and the boulder where the miracle occurred, situated already near the several monasteries and places of spiritual retreat, such as Ogre (Ocri), Vignola, Cella and the Hermitage of S. Alberico, became a pilgrimage destination from the surrounding regions.

Hermitage of St. Alberic

A few years later, a small oratory dedicated to Our Lady of the Rock (Madonna del Sasso) was built on site, around which the village that took the name of Balze was subsequently formed. Although the apparition and the miracle are not officially recognized by the Church of Rome, for more than five centuries, the country has celebrated the event for more than five centuries with religious rites and secular feasts.

At the center of the apse of the church dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta di Balze (Our Lady of the Assumption) is the “Madonna and Child between St. John the Baptist and St. Anthony the Abbot, with the Miracle of the Apparition in the background”. It is an altar table in polychrome glazed terracotta (185 x 144 x 19 cm), attributed to the workmanship of Benedetto Buglioni (1459-1521), a prolific diffuser of the pleasant Della Robbia formula, and built between the end of the fifteenth and the early 16th century: illustrates in a didactically punctual manner the miracle of the apparition of the Virgin which took place on 17 July 1494.

According to its own criteria of the ex voto, the solemn and traditional Madonna is on a throne, in the foreground, and holds the Child with St. Antonio Abate and S. Giovanni Battista at the sides; in the background the miracle is expressed with realism, with the rocky place softened by trees, where She, on a boulder, appears to the shepherds looking at the flock, caught in the moment in which they perceive the vision with amazement.


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