Le Edicole Sacre: The Corner Saints //
While teaching in Rome I began to document the saints and icons that adorn the Italian street corners and building edifices. While beautiful, these icons seemed out of context with contemporary Italian culture. Placed in different locations throughout the city — on the sides of buildings, on street corners, on the facades of palaces as well as more modest private homes, in gardens, on the walls of churches and the ancient walls of the city, these votive niches are called ‘Edicole Sacre’, or more affectionately ‘Madonnelle’. The term ‘edicole’ comes from the latin root ‘aedicula’, niche, diminuative of ‘aedes’, meaning temple or house of God, or of the ancestors. The Romans have coined the affectionate term ‘Madonnelle’, because most of the enshrined images depicted Madonnas. They were commissioned by noble families, private individuals, religious orders, fraternities and guilds to protect the city’s residents, visitors, houses and streets, often erected in memory of a miracle or great event. Many of the ‘Edicole’ are sculptural or mosaic, others are painted and some are a combination of both two and three-dimensional elements. Much of the beauty of these sacred shrines comes from the surrounding frames, lanterns, ornaments, ribbons, scrolls and other embellishments — angels, cherubs, clouds and rays. The ‘Edicole Sacre’ are manifestations of a cross section of spirituality, devotion, faith, protection and popular, public art. In previous centuries their lights also served the practical function of protecting pedestrians at night, currently they are a place to stop and pray, for a sick relative, or to pass an exam.
Like almost everything else in Rome they are complex and contradictory — mysterious, evocative, rough, elegant, expressive, and embellished — creating a religious atmosphere from their overseeing altitudes, often installed high up on buildings, almost invisible to the unassuming passerby. They are symbols of a time, and survivors of time, guides and protectors, yet themselves essentially unprotected, vulnerable to the city and the elements. Although seemingly minor elements of art and architecture they are a fascinating part of the historical, artistic and social heritage of the city.
The adjacent images are the beginning of an exploration of these artifacts of times gone by.