Ferrara: Santa Maria in Vado

The Santa Maria in Vado.

The large church of Santa Maria in Vado is located just east of the historical centre of Ferrara. The word vado derives from Italian guado, which is a place where the river – in this case the Po – can be forded; in Dutch we say waden. The Po was presumably once much closer to the church. Its course has however changed, and now it runs some 750 metres south of the Santa Maria. There has been a small church at this spot since the end of the tenth century. On Easter Sunday of the year 1171, a miracle occurred in the church which led to a surge in popularity. When the priest of the Santa Maria held up the host during the Eucharist, blood spouted from the sacred bread and stained the vault above the altar.

Miracles involving consecrated hosts seem to happen all the time in Roman Catholic churches. See for instance the Igreja do Santissimo Milagre in Santarém, Portugal, or the annual procession celebrating the Miracle of Amsterdam of 1345. Nevertheless, the miracle in Ferrara led to the church of Santa Maria in Vado becoming an important destination for pilgrims. The church in fact became so popular that Ercole I d’Este, Duke of Ferrara (1471-1505), ordered the building to be enlarged in 1495. The enlargement project was entrusted to Biagio Rossetti (ca. 1447-1516), the court architect of the d’Este family.

Interior of the church.

The Santa Maria in Vado is certainly worth a visit, but do not expect too much in terms of art. The huge facade was executed in naked brick, plain and simple. Interestingly, the northern transept has a similar facade, which can be viewed from the Via Scandiana. The church has a richly decorated interior, but you have to be able to appreciate the opulence. On the high altar is a painting of the Annunciation by local artist Camillo Filippi (ca. 1500-1574). He was the father of Sebastiano Filippi, known as Bastianino (ca. 1528-1602), who painted a fresco of the Last Judgment in the Duomo of Ferrara, 800 metres west of the Santa Maria in Vado. Another artist from Ferrara who worked in the church is Carlo Bononi (1569-1632). Among other decorations he executed the fresco in the apse (about the Holy Name of Jesus) and several ceiling paintings. Included in this post is a picture of the Blessed adoring the Holy Trinity (1616-1617).

The Blessed adoring the Holy Trinity – Carlo Bononi.

In the southern transept, we find the most important religious space of the church: the Cappella del Prodigio. This is the location of the Santuario del Preziosissimo Sangue, or the Sanctuary of the Most Precious Blood. The sanctuary is in fact a two-storey little temple with a staircase, set up to commemorate the events that are supposed to have taken place in 1171. It is difficult to find more reliable information about when exactly the sanctuary was constructed, but it seems likely that it dates from 1495 and was subsequently modified and embellished.

Some more information about the church can be found here.

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