The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Graces in Berceto in the province of Parma, one of the most important crossroads of the Parma Apennines, was once a convent complex of the Augustinians. It underwent expansion works in 1839 and became a minor seminary. The seminary, easily reachable thanks to the proximity of the motorway (A 15) exiting at the “Berceto” exit, is located a few steps from the beautiful historic mountain center, on the path of the Via Francigena, near the paths of the ancient pilgrims, in the mountains of the Parma Apennines, near the Passo della Cisa.
The devotion to the “Madonna delle Grazie” (Our Lady of Graces) has its roots since the pre-existing convent of the Augustinian fathers, outside the walls of Berceto, as a refuge for pilgrims and wayfarers. It was turned into a Marian sanctuary. Since then, the people of Berceto today, as in yesteryears, have all turned to the Virgin Mary with supplications and prayers, seeing, in many cases, their requests answered with great bestowal and magnanimity; this is evidenced by the many ex-votos posted inside the Sanctuary and the more or less large tombstones erected along the way to the Seminary.
In Berceto, in the province of Parma, every year on the first Sunday after the 2nd of July the “Festa del Voto” is celebrated, while on 3 July the translation of the statue of the Our Lady of the Graces takes place, in the Bishop’s Sanctuary of Berceto (Parma), at the headquarters summer seminary in Parma.
The celebration, both civil and religious is very ancient, is practically the “dissolution of the Vow” made in 1630 to the “Blessed Virgin Mary of Grace” (Our Lady of Berceto – Madonna delle Grazie), to ward off the plague infection.
The obligation of observance of the vow to the Blessed Virgin Mary of Grace has a secular origin, born in 1630 when the inhabitants of Berceto, to ward off the contagion of the plague that had hit the area “to appease the wrath of God and to obtain the forgiveness of sins and the liberation from the present evils of plague and contagion “, made a vow to the Our Lady (venerated in the church of the Augustinian Fathers, now a shrine), with a solemn public ceremony throughout the place and a commitment to come to celebrate the feast of Our Lady on July 2nd of each year (transferred to the following Sunday for public needs).
A certain curiosity
A legend tells that the image of Our Lady of Graces was discovered by several shepherds and farmers, in the mists of time, at the Passo della Cisa, just astride the border with the Lunigiana, in a beech grove. A dispute arose for the beautiful statue, bearing in mind that the people of Pontremoli considered it theirs and those of Berceto equally.
Before the hot heads warmed up and came to bloody confrontations, a wise person made a proposal that satisfied the two factions: yoking together two young oxen. One from Pontremoli and one from Berceto and let them go without a guide. Where they stopped, it would become the place chosen by the Madonna.
This award was put in action and the oxen, never yoked together, confidently headed towards Berceto. More than a kilometer from the Duomo they “nailed” themselves to an impervious place full of brambles and the actions of men were worthless to make them move.
Our Lady had chosen. A Sanctuary was built on the site and subsequently an Augustinian Convent. The cult for Our Lady of Graces spreads rapidly in all the valleys and even the people of Lunigiana continued to consider her also their Lady. It was decided to celebrate the event every year by choosing the first Sunday after September 8th.
The Sanctuary of the Our Lady of Graces overlooks the ancient route of Strada Romea and is the only sanctuary with a bishopric title of the Diocese of Parma.
… in the park of the Sanctuary here is a pleasant surprise, grazing roe deer.
From the outside we can observe the facade of this neo-Romanesque-empire sanctuary and the bell tower, built higher than the previous one; these two elements are part of the restorations made in 1862.
Inside the seventeenth-century edifice we find the suggestive polygonal apse. Rare examples are the two Genoese style chandeliers (early 19th century), which were once very common in the area. The splendid altarpiece and the steps of the main altar in marble are the work of Giovanni Baratta da Carrara. Giovanni Baratta’s name already appeared in a dedicatory plaque with the title of “Architecto”.
Of particular interest is the clay relief of the Madonna and Child. The sanctuary also preserves valuable silver objects including a chalice with emblem and initials, a thurible and an incense boat.