The Sanctuary of The Madonna della Salute

Santa Maria della Salute o del "Cecchino" - Olio su tela - Fine  XV sec.
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The following extract is taken out from : Valentano – Santuario della Madonna della Salute, The Local environment /7, a series of local studies published by Comune di Valentano – The public Library, cultural services.

Father Giorgio De Dominicis from Valentano, who has been Father Superior of the Convent many times, in 1974 published a short article about the age-long history of the Sanctuary of the Madonna della Salute (Madonna of the Health) in the Vatican’s newspaper L’Osservatore Romano (23/08/1974, CXIV, n.192, p. 2). Even though many years have passed, the article is still up-to-date because we are again at the eve of a jubilee, as it was when the article was written. We publish here most of the article because our dear and never forgotten Father Giorgio masterly underlines the profound and strong relationship between the Community of Valentano and the Madonna of the Health.

L'esterno del Santuario della Madonna della Salute, a Valentano

The origin of the Sanctuary dates back to the second half of the XVth century when the bandit Francesco Portici, hunted down by the authorities in the area of Castro, decided to surrender. In fact, after a period of penitence spent in the Cathedral of Castro, the Church of Saint Savino, he chose to go on a voluntary exile inside the wild wood which occupied the area where now there is the convent. Here he built a chapel using the stones gathered on the spot; inside the chapel, he put a painting showing the Holy Virgin with the Child, which was called La Madonna del Cecchino out of the name of the hermit (“Cecchino” is the short version for Francesco).
When the man died, at the end of the XVth century, this rough and solitary place was already drawing the piety of the pious people to the point that, at his death, the problem of his succession came out. From now on, the Sanctuary went through various periods, some good and other of complete abandonment.
The year 1506 marked a period of splendour for this Sacred place. In fact, some monks of the Order of Saint Agostino, who used to live in the nearby Martana island, moved to the sanctuary and built a Church and an altar on the place of the primitive chapel. The Church was dedicated to the Madonna of the Health.
This was the first, official title given to the Sanctuary, even though, later on and for two centuries, it was called Saint Mary of the Rose. This happened in 1582/83 when the fellow-citizen Giovanni Vitozzi replaced the primitive painting with a statue of the Virgin holding a rose in her right hand.

L'interno del Santuario della Madonna della Salute L'altare

The Friars Minor took the Church and the Convent the 27th May 1708, after long and difficult negotiations. In so doing, they put an end to what had been a long period of uncertainties, anguish and moral uneasiness, opening up a new era with a promising future during which the blessing of the Madonna was self-evident, as if the holy Virgin wanted to reward the faith, the constancy and the perseverance of her faithful people. Both in unhappy and joyful circumstances, people could find in the Madonna comfort and health. Anytime there was a threat on the horizon, the inhabitants asked for help and protection. This happened in 1807 for the famine; in 1831 for the plague and during World War I and II. In the meantime in our Convent, which was called Ritiro (Retirement) for the austere and solitary life led there, under the Madonna’s motherly glance numerous monks found their sanctity. We can remember the Venerable Filippo from Velletri, Father Ignazio from Rome, the God’s servant Samuele from Farnese, Father Francesco from Collodi and Father Clemente from Velletri. This last one, humble and austere at the same time, led towards the way of perfection the God’s servant father Valentino Sensini. Another important figure of our times is father Clemente Martinelli from Farnese who lived in our convent for a long time, devoting himself with sacrifice and zeal to the Sacrament of the Reconciliation as well as to the Spiritual direction of the young Franciscan Friars who, from 1928 to 1951, were preparing themselves to the Ministry (Priesthood) with the Philosophical Studies.
We said above that the coronation of the Madonna of the Health marked positively the end of the XIXth century. However, we can say that the beginning of the XXth century was even more positive because it was characterised by a great deal of Franciscan vocations. Since the beginning of the century, in fact, the pious and hard-working inhabitants of Valentano, had given more than one hundred friars to the Roman Province of the Friars Minor. Among them, brave missionaries like Father Bernardino Fratini (+1909); zealous men of government like Father Lino Lottatori, for six years Provincial Minister and first Priest in Guidonia. He died in 1943 while, on duty, was going and bringing some comfort to the people in hospital during a bombardment over the city. We can’t forget Father Fortunato Scipioni (+1958) who was a conscientious General Postulator in the process of canonisation.
Eventually, we want to remember father Giovanni Battellocchi (+1950) and his holy life, devoted as he was to the prayer and the work. He also had a dialectical, poetic vein through which he praised our Madonna.
May this joyful recurrence, which takes place to the light of the Holy Year, be an invite to the renovation and the reconciliation, also considering what our Holy Father Paolo VI said: “The renovation of the Holy Year will depend on the Madonna’s help. We must have a special devotion towards the Virgin mary if we want that this historical and spiritual event we are approaching can reach his goals”. (from the speech of 30/05/1973).