The Cathedral of Arezzo and Our Lady of Comfort

Arezzo, a treasure chest of beauties, also contains the story of a miracle. The protagonist of this fascinating story is Our Lady of Comfort. Her faithful show genuine devotion, but the lay life of the city is also touched by this cult.

The Saracino Joust, for example. The tournament during which the knights of the four districts of Arezzo challenge the Buratto in Piazza Grande and compete for the Lancia d’ Oro is one of the most beautiful historical re-enactments in Italy, an event embraced by Arezzo.

It takes place twice a year, in June and September. What does it have to do with Our Lady of Comfort? The second edition, the one held on the first Sunday of September, is dedicated to her.

But it is not over here. Musical compositions were also dedicated to Our Lady of Comfort. In 1931 Francesco Coradini, musician and priest, wrote a motet and a popular laude, entitled Bianca Regina Fulgida. Listening to this melody, which today is the religious hymn of the Diocese of Arezzo, could be an excellent introduction to the story you are about to hear.

Giostra del Saracino Madonna del Conforto
Every year, the second edition of the Saracino Joust is dedicated to her.

From the Darkness to Light

Close your eyes and go back in time to February 15th , 1796. Arezzo was at the mercy of repeated earthquakes, an earthquake that plagued the city since the beginning of the month. The earth often trembled in those days, soiling the waters of the Arno.

Frequent noises rose from the underground and night flashes ripped the darkness. Nothing supernatural: probably they were telluric lights. But a deep concern had crept into the hearts of Arezzo citizens.

Among the population there was the conviction that the quakes were a punishment wanted by God to punish the sinners of Arezzo. Instead of the Carnival celebrations, which were interrupted, several religious processions and penance rites were organized in the city.

Near Porta San Clemente there was a tavern where, all blackened by smoke, was kept an effigy of the Madonna of Provenzano, sacred image for the city of Siena. It seems that this tavern was the cellar of the Hospice of the Grancia, managed by the monks of Camaldoli (a spiritual locality of the Casentino, also in the province of Arezzo).

If you had been there, you would have had to look towards a wall to see the majolica image of Maria walled up inside the room. It would not have been very easy to see it. It seems that it was placed near a stove, used to heat the room and cook the food. A Madonna darkened by the fumes of an oil lamp, which was left lit under the representation as a sign of devotion. 

On the evening of February 15th, the people in the cellar began to pray to the Holy Virgin, asking her to stop the earthquake. At that moment the miracle would have happened. It is said that, as soon as the faithful began to invoke Mary, the picture changed color.

The yellow-black veil of dirt from which it was covered disappeared, giving way to a bright white and the tremors of earthquake were not heard again. This is how the cult of Our Lady of Comfort was born.

Cathedral of Arezzo
The Cathedral of Arezzo where, every 15th February, official celebrations are held.

The chapel of Our Lady of Comfort in the Cathedral of Arezzo

From the evening of February 15th, 1796 once a year, on the same date, Arezzo pays homage to Our Lady of Comfort. Thanks to this miracle, the Virgin Mary joined Saint Donato, the patron saint of the city, as protectress of the Arezzo area. A solemn anniversary that is celebrated throughout the city, but especially in the Cathedral of Arezzo where official celebrations are held. 

Why the Cathedral? Because it is the most important church in Arezzo, on top of the hill of the city. You can see the “Matitone” – so the people of Arezzo have nicknamed the bell tower – several kilometers away from the old city centre.

Its tip dominates an imposing structure that inside resembles a treasure chest. In addition, the Cathedral of Arezzo houses a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Comfort, whose construction was completed in 1823.

It is located on the left nave. It is here that the image, which was once blackened by smoke and came back more than two centuries ago, is preserved. It was moved here from the cellar a few days after the evening of February 15th because of the intense bustle of devotees who rushed to the tavern to venerate the Blessed Virgin. 

May your heart be comforted: here is your mother” is the meaning of the Latin inscription above the entrance of the Chapel. Admire the neo-Gothic style of architecture, which blends with the light baroque and neoclassical decorations.

You are in the symbolic place of a cult rooted in Arezzo. The richness of this environment, the colors and the excellent works of art gathered here celebrate Our Lady of Comfort. The glazed terracotta by the Della Robbia workshop evoke the ennobled simplicity of the effigy through which the miracle happened on February 15th, 1796. 

For Bishop Marcacci, who wanted to build the Chapel of Our Lady of Comfort, the funeral monument, which is in this area of the church, was built. A stunning frame inside the Cathedral of Arezzo is completed by frescoes of biblical scenes which adorn the vaults and the dome. 

A corner of paradise on earth: what are you waiting to find out?

The chapel of Our Lady of Comfort in the Cathedral of Arezzo
The chapel of Our Lady of Comfort in the Cathedral of Arezzo

Find out more:

The Madonna of Comfort, patron of Arezzo