At the beginning of the 16th century, outside the little church of Santa Maria, at the entrance to Ponte Nossa, there is a painting attributed to the painter Giacomo Busca, which represented Jesus Crucified with Saint John and Mary beside him.
On June 2, 1511, the left eye of the Madonna was seen by a young girl crying tears of blood who, with some peers, was grazing a flock nearby. The girls wiped Mary’s tears with an apron and immediately reported the incident to some men, including a knight who had arrived in the meantime. The incredulity of the latter cost him the instant loss of vision, recovered only after he repented, turned in prayer to Our Lady whom he had mocked.
There are numerous historical sources that testify to what happened. In particular, the notary Pietro dei Guerinoni of Gorno, a few days after the miracle, more precisely on June 10, 1511, described the fact rigorously and effectively making the miracle the first in the history of the Church to be officially “registered” with a public act:
So the notary described the incident:
“… a certain image of the Glorious Virgin Mary on the front wall of the church of St. Maria of Campolungo, of the Parish of St. Andrew of Premolo of the diocese of Bergamo, close to the image of our Lord Jesus, already painted for a long time, was seen changed, and become sorrowful, and shed tears of blood from the left eye and miraculously open and close the same eye” (text translated from Latin)
The fact aroused an immediate uproar and was decided immediately, after the approval of the ecclesiastical authority, to build a new church, larger and worthy of hosting such a miraculous image within it. After about 60 years, the sanctuary was completed, with considerable difficulty and with the help of the nearby parishes, and was consecrated.
The miraculous crowned image of the Our Lady of Tears is now kept in the parish church of Santa Maria Annunciata. Of the latter, there is a striking simplicity and severity of the gray stone facade, lightened by a large rose window, by tall and narrow windows and by a mosaic of the Annunciation in the lunette above the door.
To the rigor of the exterior of the sanctuary is counterpointed by an interior with homogeneous spaces, full of frescoes dating back to the early 1900s, the time of the last, substantial enlargement of the building. The painters Giovanni Cavalleri and Fermo Taragni, called for the decorations, expressed themselves with a style that is reflects the influences of the pre-Raphaelite and neo-fifteenth-century art and which translates into figures with soft poses and bright colors.
The altar of the Madonna delle Lacrime (Our Lady of Tears) was embellished in the seventeenth century with small twisted alabaster columns accompanied by an incision in memory of the grace received from the population which, following a special prayer to the Virgin, was spared by the plague.
In the 19th century, moreover, the figure of Mary was solemnly crowned because it was a prodigious image of ancient devotion, made the subject of constant votive offerings.
Many were in fact miracles attributed to the “Madonna di Campolungo”, as it is also called, as evidenced by some of the frescoes inside the church: the miracle of the knight happened immediately after the Tearing and the prodigious killing of the crocodile around which numerous anecdotes have flourished and which is also evoked by the huge embalmed skin hanging in the church.
Small paintings, silver hearts donated to the Madonna delle Lacrime Incoronata following a vow granted, a grace received. Votive tablets that tell with a single, synthetic image the drama of a disease, the advent of a misfortune or immense gratitude for an unexpected recovery. They are extraordinary images that describe dramatic situations with great expressive force despite their often modest workmanship.
Many were these tangible signs of popular faith that in the last five hundred years have accompanied the devotion to the image of Mary present in Ponte Nossa. Once exhibited in church, ex-votos experienced a period of oblivion. On the occasion of the 500th Anniversary they were restored and are always visible today in a specially prepared lateral space of the church.
Every year since 1511, the community of Ponte Nossa commemorates the miracle commonly called by the Nossians “Apparition” and not the “Tearing”. Initially remembered only with a solemn mass, the celebration has been enriched over time with other events. A particularly well-attended event is the pilgrimage made on foot by the faithful of the parishes of Parre, Premolo and Gorno who went to Ponte Nossa on the occasion of June 2 for a special prayer and for the so-called “discovery”, the solemn unveiling of the image.
Today the celebrations maintain a strong religious aspect to which the popular festival has long joined. Particular importance in this context are the fireworks, whose tradition in Ponte Nossa seems to date back to 1682, and which are now a highly anticipated event. For a long time closely linked to these celebrations is a tradition equally felt in Ponte Nossa, that of the bonfire of the Mas, a large fir placed on the top of the nearby Guazza lace, burned in honor of the Madonna on 1st June, on the eve of the anniversary of the Tear.
Pilgrimages to the Sanctuary of the Madonna delle Lacrime Incoronata in Ponte Nossa are a tradition that has roots that go back in time. The first visitors to the chapel where the miraculous image was preserved before the church was built were the inhabitants of the hamlet of Campolungo, countrymen and contemporaries of the girl who witnessed the miracle. Subsequently, the faithful of the nearby parishes, co-founders of the Sanctuary, began the tradition of the pilgrimage on foot every June 2 of each year. The ex votos kept in the church are a moving testimony to the frequent visits and supplications addressed to Our Lady of the Tears.
Thanks to the help of voluntary guides, today it is possible to renew the tradition of the pilgrimage to the Ponte Nossa Shrine so as to rediscover again one’s heritage through a spiritual and historical-artistic journey conducted inside the church.
Sito Ufficiale del Santuario – http://www.santuariopontenossa.it/