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Night of the Madonnari

Night of the Madonnari

Discover the Magic Fair of Graces in Mantova: A Journey Through Time between Art and Devotion

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The Night of the Madonnari is a fascinating annual event that takes place on the square in front of the Church of Madonna delle Grazie, just a few kilometers from the center of Mantova, in the municipality of Curtatone.

A journey between the past and the present, between sacredness and creativity, where the Ancient Fair of Grazie continues to enchant and surprise the hearts of the faithful and curious who come to admire the art of the madonnari, who transform the square of Madonna delle Grazie into an explosion of colors and devotion.

The magic begins in the afternoon of August 14th, when the Bishop of Mantova blesses the madonnari and the chalk they will use. Around 150 works come to life within 24 hours, precisely from 5:00 PM on August 14th to 5:00 PM on August 15th. These extraordinary street artists, coming from all over the world, use chalk of various sizes and colors to create their masterpieces on the asphalt, often executing extraordinary reproductions of sacred artworks or original creations dedicated to the Madonna, hence their name "madonnari." The competition concludes on the afternoon of August 15th with the award ceremony.

Their creations may be washed away in a few days by wind, rain, or pedestrian traffic, or they may last longer before eventually fading away with time, but they remain indelible in the photographs of the thousands of visitors who crowd the small village of Grazie di Curtatone. It is an ephemeral art, therefore short-lived, but no less fascinating for that.

The Fiera delle Grazie is not only about art and devotion. The typical appointment with cotechino, served with bread and accompanied by lambrusco, delights the palates of pilgrims and visitors. Stalls, rides, and fireworks create a festive and engaging atmosphere, an authentic encounter of faith, tradition, and popular enthusiasm.

The first Fiera dei Madonnari in Curtatone dates back to 1973, while the Sanctuary of Madonna delle Grazie has much older origins. In 1399, Francesco Gonzaga, Duke of Mantova, had the basilica erected as an ex-voto to thank the Madonna for the cessation of the plague, right where there was already an oratory managed by the Franciscan friars, known as a pilgrimage site. In fact, the local boatmen had placed a small shrine with an image of the Virgin and Child in this place around the year 1000, where they asked for graces for their survival and sustenance.

The Basilica of Madonna delle Grazie is a masterpiece of architecture and art. Over the centuries, it has undergone various modifications and additions, such as the portico along the facade to provide shelter from the sun and weather for pilgrims, a large convent, and side chapels. A particular feature is the presence of an embalmed crocodile, which hangs under one of the arches of the sanctuary. A legend tells that the building was constructed at the request of the people, who wanted to thank the Madonna for liberating them from a crocodile that infested the local swamps, devouring men and animals. As it seems improbable that a crocodile could have survived in the swamps of Mantova, it is assumed that it was an exotic gift offered to the friars.

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