Once hidden for centuries by brambles, a miraculous portrait can be seen along the via Francigena, just five kilometres from San Gimignano
The sanctuary of Maria Santissima Madre della Divina Provvidenza is located in Pancole, around 5 kilometres from San Gimignano. In the place where the church now stands, there was once a niche, on which Pier Francesco Fiorentino painted the Virgin Mary nursing the baby Jesus. Neglected, the shrine ended up covered in brambles until it eventually disappeared from view. Legend has it that in the beginning of April of 1668 Bartolomea Ghini, a shepherdess, born mute, was feeling particularly saddened by her impoverished state, and, as she led her flock to the pasture, she began to cry. A beautiful woman appeared in front of her, asking why she was so sad. When Bartolomea answered her, the woman reassured her, telling her to go home, where she would find a pantry full of bread, a full cruet and overflowing barrels of wine. Bartolomea suddenly realized that she had actually spoken and ran home, yelling for her parents at the top of her lungs: they were amazed both at hearing their daughter speak and at seeing the pantry filled. All of the villagers went to the pasture where the girl claimed to have seen this mysterious woman, but they found nothing but a heap of brambles. At this point, they eradicated all of the plants and discovered that they had been hiding the niche with the image—an image that, according to Bartolomea, depicted the same woman she had met. While the brambles were being removed, the icon got scratched by a pruning hook, and you can still see the mark.
This news drew a multitude of pilgrims, who brought special offerings and materials to build a church to house the image. The building was erected and consecrated within just two years (1670). On July 14, 1944, retreating Germans undermined it a bit and the building was almost completely destroyed: only the altar wall where this sacred image is found was saved. The small temple was rebuilt following the previous model, and the sanctuary was re-consecrated on October 19, 1949. In addition to Pier Francesco Fiorentino’s image of the Virgin nursing the baby Jesus, the inside also houses two wooden polychrome sculptures from the 17th century, depicting Saint Julietta with her son Quriaqos and Saint Geminiano, both from the church of San Quirico. About a hundred ex votives are also housed here.
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