When I excitedly described my Nov. 6-10 trip to Rome to my mother the other day, the first thing she told me was how she, like me, was taken by the Madonelle that adorn the street-corners and alleyways of the city. So I thought I’d share a picture of the Madonella near my hotel and Frank Korn’s description from his indispensable book, A Catholic’s Guide to Rome: Discovering the Soul of the Eternal City:
There are also hundreds of Madonelle, statuettes of the Madonna, in niches on the fronts of buildings — especially corner buildings. Some are simple and unadorned, others ornamental — yet always tasteful. The best of these date from the Baroque period when they were decorated with stucco and wrought iron. This practice goes back to medieval times. The local Madonella was a neighborhood’s way of invoking the blessing and protection of the Virgin Mary. When the Angelus bells ran out at eventide, votive oil lamps were placed before these miniature shrines. These lamps helped to light Rome’s streets in the days before public electric illumination. As late as the end of the eighteenth century, more than two thousand of these Madonelle graced the office buildings and apartment houses of Rome. Some fifteen hundred have survived to our time, as a walk through the city, particularly the old districts, will reveal.