Postcard from Malaga, Spain: Discovering a church’s “changing tower”

Holy banner of the Virgin Mary paying a call on Santuario de la Victoria

Judging from the silvered coach transporting the banner of the Virgin Mary on a traffic-snarling journey through the streets of Malaga to visit some of city’s other prominent figures of Mary – of which there are many, all elegantly attired and crowned – the banner must be highly regarded by the supporting brotherhood. A team of well-groomed oxen pulled her ahead of a fleet of flatbed tented trailers bearing a host of traditionally costumed followers, refueling themselves periodically from kegs of beer or wine.

We caught up with the procession after its visit to Santuario de la Victoria. The basilica dedicated to Saint Mary of Victory stands on the site of the encampment of King Ferdinand II of Aragon (1452-1516) when he laid siege to recapture Malaga from the Moors in 1487. The original church built soon after was replaced by a grander edifice completed in 1700.

What makes this church one of my favorites in Spain is the most spectacular chamber we almost missed. Up high behind the altar, accessed by a stairway tucked away behind doors off to the side of the altar, is what is referred to as a camarin torre, a changing tower. I am still unsure what that means, but inside a beautifully carved Virgin and Child are held aloft under a most ornate snowy white and gold dome.

The basilica might have risen to be my favorite anywhere if we had been allowed into the crypt down below. Inside are the sculptured tombs of the Counts of Buenavista, accompanied by a host of carved skeletons. Alas, the crypt was closed for restoration, perhaps completed by now.

Including a few final remaining shots of other Malaga churches and Marias in this post as well.

Postcard from Genoa, Italy: Never judge an Italian church by its facade

Located just outside the original walls of Genoa’s historic center and with a mid-1800s Neoclassical façade, the Basilica della Santissima Annunziata de Vastato almost escaped our notice. If not nudged by our landlord, we would have missed the wildly rich Baroque interior added in the 17th century to the church built at the close of the 16th century.

Every church door we passed through in Genoa offered similar visual rewards, as some of these photographs indicate.

 

Postcard from Rome, Italy: Putting that saintly fashion foot forward

Away from San Antonio during Fiesta… when duchesses were bowing, weighed down by their glittering trains and flashing their fancy footwear, sometimes chanclas, from atop flowery floats… we encountered a rich array of elegant gowns in a fashion show in an unanticipated setting.

Chapels lining one side aisle of the Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli hosted mannequins wearing some of the Virgin Mary’s most formal attire. Numerous outfits were complete with compatible cloaks and shoes and, of course, matching attire for Baby Jesus.

The basilica’s own Baby Jesus, Santo Bambino of Aracoeli, needed no additional clothes. Carved from olive wood from the Gethsemane Garden in Jerusalem, Santo Bambino always is cloaked in a much-bejeweled golden garment.

The original statue created by a Franciscan dated from the 15th century and was credited for numerous miraculous healings. At one point, Santo Bambino was carted around on house-calls to aid those too ill to visit personally.

An icon of such value attracts much interest. The French hijacked it in 1797, but it was later recovered. Thieves robbed the baby of numerous jewels in 1838, but the worst theft occurred in 1994. Santo Bambino vanished. Even thieves in prison penned public letters requesting their fellow tradesmen return the beloved Santo Bambino. Fresh olive wood was obtained from Jerusalem for the replacement now on display.

The original Santo Bambino might be missing, but, for the faithful, his powerful spirit remains with the reproduction in the basilica. Letters from around the world arrive addressed to Santo Bambino requesting mail-order miracles and are placed beside him to “read” at will. As newer ones arrive, the older requests are burned with incense.

As for the setting itself? No San Antonio ballroom can compare with the shimmering chandeliers and ornate décor found in the basilica.

Somewhere at the foundation of the enormous Basilica of Santa Maria of Aracoeli lies a Byzantine church dating from the 500s. The papacy took over the property in the 9th century, placing it under the control of Benedictines. Immense columns supporting the central nave were harvested from ancient Roman ruins. Franciscans provided much Romanesque and Gothic remodeling and expansion in the 1200s. Heavy gilding of the ceiling was completed in 1575 to thank the Virgin for her assistance in defeating the Turkish fleet at the Battle of Lepanto.

A monumental stairway, 124 steps, was added in 1348 for those praying for an end to the Black Plaque or seeking penance on their way up to the church (Okay, I confess. We took an easier approach through a side door.). In the Middle Ages, criminals were executed at the base of the stairway. In the 17th century, one of the royal princes who lived above took offense to international pilgrims sleeping on the steps and periodically rolled stone-filled barrels downward to chase them off.

Contemporary superstition claims the faithful who crawl up the stairway on their knees enhance their possibilities to win the national lottery. No point for us. We will never win any lottery. You have to pay to play.