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Santa Maria delle Grazie

Since Etruscan times on the hill of Santa Maria, in the south of the city, there was a cult of healthy waters. The pagan fount, perhaps dedicated to Apollo in the Roman period, was frequented by the Aretini throughout the Early Middle Ages, when it was called “Fons Tuta”, and the Late Middle Ages, when instead it was provided with cover and called “Fons Tecta”.

At the beginning of the 15th century there were still many who went there, considering the healing waters especially of childhood ills, but the local Church did not see with good eyes the permanence of these pre-Christian rites. In 1425 St. Bernardino da Siena was in Arezzo to preach during Lent and tried to dismantle the fount, but he was expelled. In 1428 he returned with the same intentions and thanks to the collaboration of a group of faithful he destroyed it. In its place he built an oratory, where Parri di Spinello frescoed in 1430/31 a “Madonna della Misericordia” that protects the people under her mantle.

Between 1435 and 1444 a church was erected in late Gothic style, with a single nave with cross vaults, designed by Domenico del Fattore. To the right of the building, between 1450 and 1451, an external chapel dedicated to St. Bernardino was also built. In the early 70s of the 15th century a spectacular porticoed square was built, designed by Giuliano da Maiano, where Lorentino d’Andrea frescoed the “Stories of S. Donatus”.

In 1695 the Discalced Carmelites came into possession of the sanctuary. During the 18th century they asked the Grand Duchy for funding to restore the loggia, as it was in poor condition. Given the denials, in 1788 it was demolished for security reasons and today we can see only a small part of it in the right and left segments of the church.

Between the second half of the 70s and the early 80s of the 15th century, the extraordinary loggia of Benedetto da Maiano was placed on the facade of the church. This work, consisting of fifteen arches supported by Corinthian-style columns, is considered one of the greatest Renaissance masterpieces. The supremacy of emptiness over fullness makes it light and harmonious and this characteristic was also exalted by Gabriele D’Annunzio, who called it “aerea loggia”.

At the entrance of the square there is a portal in hewn stones: it is what remains of Porta Santo Spirito, one of the entrances to the Medici walls of Arezzo. It was transported here in 1893, after the demolition of the walls in that part of the city. In 1895, to the right of the portal, a plaque was placed to remember that between July 22 and 23 1849 Giuseppe Garibaldi‘s troops camped here fleeing from Rome, after the defeat of the Roman Republic.

Today the sanctuary is a parish run by the Carmelite fathers. The interior of the church presents a conspicuous artistic heritage, despite the loss of some works and the transfer of others to the Museum of Medieval and Modern Art in Arezzo, such as the panel with the “Madonna della Misericordia e Santi” of 1456 by Neri di Bicci and the panel with the “Madonna and Child with Saints” of 1482 by Lorentino d’Andrea.

On the right wall a fresco depicting “Pope Sixtus IV between cardinals Gonzaga and Piccolomini, in the act of granting the indulgence to the sanctuary” was executed around 1480 by Lorentino D’Andrea, main Arezzo collaborator of Piero della Francesca.

At the end of the 15th century the “Madonna della Misericordia” by Parri di Spinello was inserted into the marble altar of Andrea della Robbia, built with the help of his sons Giovanni, Marco and Luca il Giovane between 1487 and 1498. In the central part four statues depict St. Donatus, St. Bernardino and the protomartyrs Lorentino and Pergentino. The magnificent work, crowned by a “Madonna and Child with two angels”, is enriched by putti holding a candle, heads of cherubim and seraphim, the Holy Spirit, medallions with prophets and an elegant festoon of fruit in polychrome glazed terracotta. The antependium of the main altar represents, “Christ in mercy with Our Lady and St. John the Evangelist”.

Inside the St. Bernardino Chapel are the remains of the frescoes of Lorentino d ‘Andrea detached from the outer portico and some relics, such as the wooden cross that according to tradition the friar and future saint had with him during the demolition of the pagan fountain.

Benedetto da Maiano Lodge (1480)

Benedetto da Maiano Lodge (1480)

Benedetto da Maiano Lodge (1480)

Benedetto da Maiano Lodge (1480)

Porta Santo Spirito Portal, demolished in 1893

Madonna della Misericordia, Parri di Spinello (1431)

Altar by Andrea della Robbia and sons (1487 – 1498), with the centerpiece Madonna della Misericordia by Parri di Spinello (1431).

Altar frontal, Christ in Piety with the Sorrowful Madonna and Saint John the Evangelist, by Andrea della Robbia.

Pope Sixtus IV among the cardinals Gonzaga and Piccolomini, by Lorentino D’Andrea (1480)