A place rich in art and history
THE STRUCTURE OF THE CHURCH
When the people of Brescia refer to the «Madonna delle Grazie» (Our Lady of Graces) they are talking about a place that is very dear to them, rich in history and art, as well as faith. And it is not just a place but, one could say, a monumental complex composed of a basilica and a shrine linked by a cloister, and of a former monastery (part of which today is a public school).
The structure of the church of the Graces that was elevated in 1963 to the status of «Roman Basilica Minor» by decree of Pope John XXIII, was designed by the architect Lodovico Barcella from Chiari. Work on its construction began in 1522, to give hospitality to the Gerolomini monks whose church in the area of Borgo Pile had been demolished (1517).
The church has a simple façade with a lovely fifteenth century richly sculpted entrance porch that comes trom the demolished church of the Jerome monks of Borgo Pile. The two lions in red marble are older.
The wooden door was carved by Filippo Morari (1490).
THE INTERIOR OF THE CHURCH
The interior is formed of three naves divided by Corinthian columns, with rich Baroque decorations in stucco, gold and fresco; it has frescoes by famous artists such as Grazio Cossali, Francesco Giugno, Antonio and Bernardino Gandini, Pietro Marone, Tiburzio Baldini and Palma the Younger.
Canvases and frescoes illustrate an important summary of Marian history; the side altars are visible testimonies of the religious orders that have been present in the church.
In particular, many works can be admired along the right nave:
In the chapel at the end of the nave we see the «Our Lady with the Child and Saints» by Moretto and the «Miracle of St Martin» by Francesco Maffei.
At the beginning of the presbytery the monument to cardinal Uberto Gambara, dates to 1560.
The Presbytery, that contains the Organ of the Serassi Brothers (1845), also has:
At the top of the left nave is the Chapel of the «Crucifixion with Our Lady and St Charles Borromeo».
Along the left nave we can admire:
On the inside of the façade, «Murder of the Innocents», by Tiburzio Baldini.
We enter the cloister to the left of the façade.
This is a pretty arcaded Renaissance courtyard that was refurbished in 1951. It has a fountain surmounted by a statue of Our Lady by Sante Callegari the Elder, the water of which is considered to have been blessed by St Charles Borromeo during his visit in 1580.
A copy of the miraculous picture of Our Lady of Graces is frescoed on a wall of the cloister in memory of the visit of St Pius X, who was present as the Bishop of Mantua during the feast of the Coronation of 1886.
Access to the Shrine is from the small courtyard on the left.
This was originally the Church of the Umiliati who had their headquarters here. The Shrine was richly refurbished by Antonio Tagliaferri (1880-
The Shrine has colonnades and walls covered in marble, Marian emblems, coats of arms and small spiral columns; it is decorated with two frescoes by Modesto Faustini, while the other paintings, portraying scenes of the life of Mary («The Nativity of Mary» , «The Annunciation», «Mary’s Visit to Elisabeth», «Mary’s Wedding», «Mary at the foot of the Cross», «The Sleep») and some images of women from the Old Testament, are the work of Cesare Bertolotti; on the altar, the «Nativity», fresco from the Foppesque school (perhaps by Andrea Bembo).
During a visit, Fogazzaro made the comment that it was «the most beautiful modern Shrine of Italy».
Story of the Shrine
- 8th September 1290:
Bishop Berardo Maggi lays the first stone of the Shrine of the Umiliati Fathers from Palazzolo, who place the image of the Mother of God there, an image that was already sacred to public worship.
The Jerome Monks, whose church and convent of Our Lady of Graces outside Porta Pile had been demolished, brought the name to this Shrine. It was in their possession by commenda from Cardinal Uberto Gambara, who granted it to them with an act of 3rd December 1519.
- 28th March 1522:
Bishop Paolo Zane lays the first stone of the great church built by the Jerome monks based on a design by Ludovico Barcella of Chiari.
- 22nd May 1526:
First miracle of the image of Our Lady.
- 18th May 1527:
The new church is opened for liturgical services.
- 22nd February 1539:
Bishop Gerolamo Vascherio consecrates the church dedicating it to the Nativity of Most Holy Mary.
- 7th December 1668:
With the suppression of the order of the Jerome monks by Clement IX, the convent passed to the Company of Jesus, which extended it. They opened schools there. The Shrine continues to be a centre of Marian devotion of the city.
- 15th December 1773:
With the suppression of the Company of Jesus, the Convent, Church and Shrine are granted by the Republic of Venice to the Municipality which holds them until 1815.
- 4th November 1775:
The church is raised by Bishop Nani to the rank of parish and the Rector is invested with the care of souls.
- 27th March 1806:
By order of the government the status of Parish is suppressed while the Church remains as Municipal Patronage directly dependant on the Ordinary.
- 31 March 1945:
By decree of H.E. Mgr Tredici, Bishop of Brescia, the Shrine and Church Major are entrusted to the Diocesan Congregation of the Oblates of the Holy Family.
- Year 1951:
The cloister and atrium are restored to their original shape. The copy of the sacred image is decorated with a marble frame.
- 17th March 1963:
The «big Church» is raised to the status of «Roman Basilica Minor» by decree of Pope John XXIII, now Blessed. He knew our Shrine well through his frequent visits when he was Apostolic Nuncio and Cardinal Patriarch of Venice.
- 26th September 1982:
During his Pastoral Visit, the Holy Father John Paull II visited the Shrine in memory of the Servant of God Pope Paul VI.
The venerated Image
The special devotion of the people of Brescia for this sacred image dates to 22nd May 1526 when many people saw Our Lady miraculously open and close her hands and her eyes, almost as if in an act of request of some favour from the Divine Infant, and Baby Jesus respond with the same gestures of gentle sweetness.
The Bishop of Brescia, Mgr Paolo Zane, approved and confirmed what had occurred.
PRAYERS TO OUR LADY OF GRACES
O Virgin, Mary of Graces; Pray for us all.
Mary, Holy Virgin,
who before Jesus Christ was enraptured in an ecstasy of love;
Mary, Blessed Mary of the Word of God made Flesh and our Mother, celebrated in Heaven with power and glory;
Mother so attentive to the needs of your children, look with mercy on these souls that with humble confidence offer you their troubles and anxieties.
O Virgin, Mary of Graces; Pray for us all.
Mother of divine Grace, we don’t dare nor do we know how to pray to you and we are not asking you for anything in particular, because with your maternal eyes you already see and understand what we need in our simple lives.
O Virgin, Mary of Graces; Pray for us all.
All we ask of you, our Mother: make us able to love, adore, serve Jesus with all our hearts and with all our strength, so that our everything is focussed there, where there is true life. Amen.
O Virgin, Mary of Graces; Pray for us all.
Paul VI and the Shrine of Graces
These words are sufficient to document the special bond that Paul VI had with the Shrine of Graces. They were pronounced by the Pope from Brescia at the Angelus of 8th September 1966:
«How could we forget that the 8th September is a solemn day in Brescia for that Shrine of Our Lady of Graces, the Church Major (today a Basilica) of which, adjacent to the Shrine, is dedicated to this feast? It was the usual occasion for our family to meet; and it was in that holy household, home and Church of Marian worship, that our young priestly vocation grew to maturity ».
On 30th May 1920 the newly ordained priest G. Battista Montini celebrated his first Mass at the altar of the Shrine. The young priest wasn’t even 23 years old and his family lived beside the Shrine, in Via delle Grazie 17.
The bond between the future Paul VI and the Shrine stayed alive for a long time, maintained especially by the fact that the Marian feast of the 8th September always saw the Montini family come together in the Shrine of Graces. Some of his letters to ‘his family, written when “Don Battista” couldn’t be present personally at the Shrine for 8th September, clearly testify to this (cf. article of don Angelo Bonetti, pages 138-
Warsaw, 8th September 1923: «I also answer “present!” at the usual family get together for today’s feast; I imagine you all united, and I believe that from above Our Lady sees you and me with the same look as if we were all together to pray her to protect again and always our home ».
Rome, 8th September 1928: at the end of a letter: «Be well. And may Our Lady who I celebrated spiritually with you today protect you all and always ».
Rome, 10th September 1934: «With pleasure I receive Mamma’s letter, with yesterday’s date, with the echo of the feast of the Graces, for me too rich in regrets, memories and hopes…».
Camaldoli, 8th September 1937: « I received Mamma’s letter and I thank her. I pray for every good far you from Our Lady, and for everyone…».
Rome, 8the September 1940: « Where are you? I imagine you still in Pontedilegno to enjoy the last gifts of sun of the Alpine season, but all together at the “Graces” in spirit to celebrate “our” Our Lady. And I too am there to rediscover under her maternal protection the dearest intimacy of our home ».
Rome, 6th September 1942: « I remember that the day after tomorrow is her feast, and that I cannot fail to be present at the spiritual meeting of the family. I beg pardon therefore for the silence of these past days and I pick up the interrupted conversation again ».
It is precisely because of these bonds between Paul VI and the Shrine of the Graces that the Bishop of Brescia, Mgr Luciano Monari, promoter of the Cause of Beatification of the Servant of God Paul VI, in agreement with the Postulator of the Cause, Father Antonio Marrazzo, has established at the Shrine the diocesan office for the Cause of Beatification of Paul VI so as to encourage devotion and love for him.
Stages in the life of Paul VI
Giovanni Battista Montini was born in Concesio (Brescia) on 26th September 1897.
He was ordained priest on 29th May 1920, and the following day celebrated his first Mass in the Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Graces in Brescia.
He entered the Secretariat of State in October 1924 and in 1925 was nominated National Ecclesiastical Assistant to the Italian Catholic University Federation (FUCI).
He became Substitute of the Secretariat of State in December 1937. On 10th November 1954 he was elected Archbishop of Milan and on 12th December was consecrated Bishop in St Peter’s Basilica. On 15th December 1958 he was created Cardinal in John XXIII’s first Consistory.
At the Conclave after the death of John XXIII, he was elected supreme Pontiff on 21st June 1963 and took the name of Paul VI.
He made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in January 1964 and had his first meeting with the Patriarch Athenagoras I. He began his apostolic journeys: India (1964), ONU (1965), Fatima (1967), Bogotà (1968), Uganda (1969) and the Far East, Australia, Oceania (1970).
He solemnly concluded the Second Vatican Council on 8th December 1965. On 24th December 1974 he opened the Holy Door of St Peter’s Basilica so inaugurating the Holy Year.
His most important documents are the Encyclicals on the Church (1964), on the Eucharist (1965), on the Progress of Peoples (1967), on Priestly Celibacy (1967), on Protection of Human Life (1968) and the Apostolic Exhortations on Marian Worship (1974), and on Apostolic Commitment to announcing the Gospel (1975).
Paul VI was very attentive to ecumenical relations and for that reason he visited the Patriarch Athenagoras I in Istanbul in 1967; in 1969 he visited the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Geneva; he received in the Vatican the Archbishop of Canterbury M. Ramsey (1966), the Patriarch Athenagoras I (1967), the Syroorthodox Patriarch of Antioch (1971), the Meliton Metropolitan (1975), and many more.
Paul VI died on 6th August 1978, the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Decrees of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints
Vatican City, 20 December 2012 (VIS)
Today, during a private audience with Cardinal Angelo Amato S.D.B., prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the Pope authorised the Congregation to promulgate the following decree:
Servant of God Paul VI, Giovanni Battista Montini, Italian, Supreme Pontiff (1897-
From «Paul Vl’s Will and Testament»
My eyes are focussed on the mystery of death, and what follows it, in the light of Christ, who alone brightens it; and therefore with humble and serene confidence I feel the truth, which has always been reflected for me on this life by this mystery, and I bless the conqueror of death for having put darkness to flight and revealed the light.
Before death, the total and definitive leaving of this life, I feel I have to celebrate the gift, the luck, the beauty, the destiny of this fleeing existence: Lord, I thank you for having called me to life, and even more that, by making me Christian, you regenerated me and destined me for the fullness of life.
I close my eyes on this sad, dramatic and magnificent world, calling once again on it divine goodness. Again I bless everyone.
From the «Thought on death»
And to the Church, to which I owe everything and which was mine, what can I say?
May the blessings of God be on you;
may you know your nature and your mission;
may you feel the true and deep needs of mankind;
and may you walk poor, that is to say free, strong and loving towards Christ.
The Lord is coming. Amen
Prayer for the glorification of Pope Paul VI
Lord Jesus, we thank you for the shining witness of Pope Paul VI,
who you gave us as servant of the Gospel and universal Pastor.
His burning love for You, His passion for the good of your Church,
his wisdom and his equilibrium in moments of tension have directed our steps
in the glorious years of the Council and those difficult years that came after.
His passionate dialogue with culture.
In the search for truth, his untiring work for peace,
his courageous defence of the value of life,
his becoming a pilgrim in the sign of the apostle of the gentiles,
his prophetic voice in proclaiming the civilization of love are still shining signs for the Church of our time.
Show your kindness towards us and, if you so wish, glorify your servant Pope Paul VI,
so that his memory may shine before the whole Church
as an encouragement to a path of joyous faith,
to an complete ecclesial communion, to a credible and passionate missionary witness.
(Mgr Luciano Monari, Bishop of Brescia)
Prayer to obtain graces through the intercession
of the Venerable Pope Paul VI
Lord, our poverty leads us to ask for your assistance.
We do so certain that your heart of Father is always ready to listen to his children’s requests.
Our necessities are interpreted by Pope Paul VI,
the Pope of dialogue, the pilgrim Pope,
the Pope of the civilization of love.
It is through him, your good and faithful Servant who rests in your beatitude,
that we make our supplication to you.
O Lord, through the intercession of Pope Paul VI,
grant your assistance to obtain the grace of ……………………………………..
May your will, Lord, be done.